Another away of getting rid of those " dirty fish" like farmed salmon.
Importer using DNA testing to fight ‘rampant’ seafood labelling fraud
Canadian research finds that more than 40 per cent of seafood is labelled incorrectly
By RANDY SHORE, Vancouver SunJanuary 2, 2012
University of Guelph professor Robert Hanner investigates seafood mislabelling using the Barcode of Life Network database.Cheaper DNA testing technology is making it easier than ever for regulators and seafood firms to crack down on seafood mislabelling.
Recent research has found that 25 to 41 per cent of the fish sold at retail and by restaurants is not actually the species listed on the label or the menu, making it almost impossible for consumers to make ethical and sustainable seafood choices.
So, Victoria-based seafood importer Tradex foods in December implemented DNA testing on seafood processed in China for its Sinbad house label.
Samples taken at overseas processing facilities are flown to the United States and tested by Illinois-based DNA sequencing and analysis company ACGT Inc. while the fish itself is in transit to North America by ship.
Between 10 and 30 samples are analyzed each month at about $70 per sample.
“A big part of our business model is centred around eliminating fraud which is rampant in our industry,” said Tradex spokesperson Ryan McKay. “We have definitely detected [species substitution] in our competitors’ products.”
Often restaurants and retailers are not even aware that substitution has taken place, the company says.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency — the federal agency responsible for verifying quality and labelling of seafood imports — samples and inspects 5,000 lots of imported fish each year from over 1,000 fish importers.
The agency performs periodic sampling of fish samples taken from retailers as well as testing in response to complaints made by the public, the agency said in an email interview with The Sun.
CFIA maintains that the vast majority of fish sampled and analyzed are accurately labelled.
But Canadian researchers beg to differ. A study published in the October, 2011 edition of the scientific journal Mitochondrial DNA found that 25 to 41 per cent of samples — submitted from across the country by news organizations including The Vancouver Sun between 2008 and 2010 — were mislabelled.
The authors compared the DNA analysis of the samples with the CFIA’s guide for interpreting “false, misleading or deceptive” names.
“High value species are most subject to substitution,” said lead author Robert Hanner, associate director of the Canadian Barcode of Life Network at the University of Guelph. “But we’ve seen substitution in all categories, wild-caught and aquaculture.”
The Barcode of Life database contains DNA sequences of nearly 10,000 fish species allowing quick identification of many of the world’s food fishes, a technology that is being developed for commercial use by the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding.
“Mislabelling and substitution are systemic in the North American market,” said Hanner. “But other researchers have duplicated our study and shown the same thing in Brazilian markets, European markets, South African markets.”
Fish labelled as cod is often less expensive fish such as haddock or pollock. Fish labelled as Pacific halibut is often Atlantic halibut, a species at risk, or it’s not halibut at all.
“What we also see a lot of is packages labelled wild salmon without saying whether its sockeye, coho or pink,” said Hanner. “Usually it’s a low-value fish like pink or chum.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December stepped up testing in partnership with the Barcode of Life Network after some consumers were sickened by eating poisonous puffer fish from China that was mislabelled as monkfish.
The CFIA is testing Barcode of Life DNA technology that is expected to be ready for use in 2012.
The agency will be able to compare samples from spot checks with genetic records on the Canadian Barcode of Life Network database for quick verification of species.
Hanner said that Tradex’s testing program could give them a market advantage with consumers eager to make sustainable and ethical choices. A 2010 study found that even some Marine Stewardship Council certified fisheries were subject to species substitution.
Hanner is particularly troubled by the presence of farmed fish in lots labelled as wild, which are subject to a very different kind of regulatory scrutiny.
What is labelled as red snapper is sometimes dirt-cheap farmed fish, he said.
Aquaculture species are subject to random testing for antibiotics and antifungals used by “unscrupulous” fish farms. But fish labelled as wild-caught may circumvent CFIA toxicity testing, Hanner said.
“So there may be more than an economic incentive for deception, it may be a way to sell dirty fish,” he said. “If you know you have a [shipment] of fish that has been exposed to chemicals, one way to launder it is to simply mislabel it.”
Half of the fish consumed in the world is now farm-raised, said Hanner.email@example.comWith
a file from Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun
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University of Guelph professor Robert Hanner investigates seafood mislabelling using the Barcode of Life Network database.