Thursday, December 6, 2012

Still fishy

I have to admit it is going to be a fishy week on this blog but what can I do. After all one chooses what's close to ones heart ;-)

When it comes to DNA Barcoding in the media the really big stories had to do with fish or more precisely the seafood market. That started with the famous 'Sushigate' where two high school students used the method to show that many items on menus in seafood restaurants were simply mislabeled.

Frozen Tilapia - unfortunately often sold as red snapper
Quite a few broadcasters and newspapers took the idea and conducted their own investigations. Among those the Boston Globe. A year ago they tested seafood from Boston and with our help they found out that about half the time fish bought at restaurants across the region was mislabeled. They concluded:

Massachusetts consumers routinely, and unwittingly, overpay for less desirable, sometimes undesirable, species - or buy seafood that is simply not what it is advertised to be. In many cases, the fish was caught thousands of miles away and frozen, not reeled in by local fishermen, as the menu claimed. It may be perfectly palatable - just not what the customer ordered. But sometimes mislabeled seafood can cause allergic reactions, violate dietary restrictions, or contain chemicals banned in the United States.

Now a year later they went back to the restaurants and retailers to see if things have changed. Aparently they haven't:

Over the past several months, the Globe collected 76 seafood samples from 58 of the restaurants and markets that sold mislabeled fish last year. DNA testing on those samples found 76 percent of them weren’t what was advertised. Some restaurant operators who repeatedly mislabeled fish blamed suppliers. Others said naming inconsistencies were the result of clerical errors. Several made only partial revisions to their menus.

The main problem is that legislation hasn't caught up on the problem. Restaurants and suppliers know they will not face punishment for mislabeling fish. The Food and Drug Administration, which maintains a list of acceptable market names for fish species, has historically focused efforts on food safety, rather than economic fraud such as seafood substitution. However, they have already implemented DNA Barcoding as tool for seafood identification. Only regulation of the nation's seafood trade has to catch up which of course is a long and bureaucratic process. 

Most other nations are not even at this point yet.

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