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Wine bottles in a row
The West Australian Wine bottles in a row

Millions of dollars worth of food and wine fraudulently labelled as Australian could be exposed thanks to new research by Perth forensic scientists.

University of WA researchers at the centre for forensic science have developed a technique to trace food and drink back to its origin and they believe it could play a key role in combating food and wine piracy.

International scammers are already targeting well-known Australian winemakers such as Penfolds.

Researcher Alexander Martin, who focused on wine, said fraudsters were sullying the reputations of Australian vineyards.

"There's a lot of value in wines associated with individual regions or countries," he said. "That makes it attractive to organisations looking to profit by fraudulently labelling wine or illegally blending it."

By breaking down Australian wines into base chemical components, Mr Martin identified key similarities in wines from the same regions, such as Margaret River and the Barossa Valley.

The forensic comparison allows any "foreign" wines to be indentified to spot suspect blends.

Piracy has emerged as a key problem for Australian winemakers as the industry expands into the booming Chinese market.

The Penfolds Grange knock-off "Benfolds" remains the highest profile case but many wineries are believed to have been targeted.

UWA Professor John Watling said the centre's analysis of a container load of fake "Coonawarra" red stopped it being shipped to China.

"You look at these bottles and they've got an Australian mark on them, but its Chinese wine going back to China," he said.

"It's a bad name for Australian wine. Once we start losing that reputation, it's very hard to get it back."

Professor Watling said similar techniques could trace other produce.

"We've managed to trace pork chops from the supermarket back to the farm of origin within 52 hours," he said.

"You've got a billion dollars of food theft per annum. How much is that going to affect the industry?"

The centre has been at the forefront of many key forensic breakthroughs, including gold fingerprinting technology that has led to WA Police recovering millions of dollars in stolen gold.