A New Zealand-based food quality “fingerprinting” business is to use its traceability technology to help the cotton industry reinforce the credentials of Australian exports.
In a forensic approach to protecting the premium reputation and price of cotton sold by the big Auscott group into global markets – where fraudulent claims about production backgrounds are not uncommon – the fibre will be scientifically traced back to its farm of origin.
NZ’s Oritain Global has signed up with Auscott’s US parent company, the J.G. Boswell Company, to verify that lint being processed in overseas textile mills has been sourced from the cotton producer’s Australian and US farms.
The partnership also involves textile firm Welspun India.
Oritain, which recently opened an office in Australia, already uses similar forensic techniques to prove provenance for the Wools of NZ brand name.
It can test fibre at various stages along the supply chain and verify its origin.
The Auscott deal follows publicity centred on authenticity doubts about Indian organic cotton and increasing consumer demands for more proof of origin and sustainability of products used by the textile industry.
Welspun itself was recently caught out and suffered a big credibility setback with US retailers such as Walmart after selling Egyptian cotton manchester not made entirely of Egyptian cotton.
Founded 30 years ago to test for food quality characteristics, Oritain can now compare the authenticity of crops and food including organic eggs, honey and milk products based on factors such as the soil composition on farms where they were produced.
Oritain, which also has a UK business division, provides confirmation of food, fibre and pharmaceutical provenance claims to help protect the reputations of its supply chain customers.
The J.G. Boswell Company is one of America’s larger agricultural enterprises, and the largest US grower of long-staple pima cotton.
It’s no secret the global industry has had problems with traceability.
It also grows hay and horticultural crops, notably tomatoes, in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Its Auscott business, one of the industry’s pioneering cotton growers in NSW in the 1960s, has become a big cotton farming operation in the Namoi, Gwydir, Macquarie and Murrumbidgee valleys, also with ginning, warehousing, marketing and shipping activities.
Auscott cotton marketing manager, Arthur Spellson, said international retailers and clothing brands wanted to publicise Australian-sourced cotton, and a key advantage of Oritain’s service was it provided a true product test.
It analysed the actual fibre, rather than relying on sprays, tags or barcodes on bales, fabric, or garments.
Packaging has also been susceptible to counterfeiting in the past.
“It’s no secret the global industry has had problems with traceability,” he said.
A true product test
“Our customers were asking for reassurance so they could publicise the fact they were using Australian cotton because it is a good story of sustainable management and ethical production.”
“Now we have a true product test, which also from an operational point of view is a very easy solution to adopt for our business.”
The deal follows a year’s talks and trials between Auscott and Oritain, which claims its fingerprint identification technology will verify the origin of a cotton sample by matching natural chemical properties in the fibre with geological and environmental attributes from the farm it was grown on.
These differences are then isolated and used to establish a chemical fingerprint of the sample’s provenance.
Boswell’s US operations are likely to be keen adopters of the technology, too, because premium-priced pima cotton markets have been common targets for substitution.
In NZ, Oritain Global’s chief executive officer, Grant Cochrane, said this scientific solution would go a long way to addressing traceability challenges confronting the cotton industry in recent years.
Manufacturers, brand owners and retailers were increasingly focused on ensuring transparency within their supply chains.
“A huge part of this is knowing and trusting where their product comes from,” he said.
Auscott’s Mr Spellson believed customers and brands using Auscott cotton would now have full confidence in the product’s Australian origins and production credibility.
He expected other Australian industry players to be watching closely and looking seriously at similar initiatives.
Oritain intends to to add samples to its database from other origins around the world, such as Egypt, India or Pakistan.