Friday, November 20, 2015

Incentives to adopt DNA barcoding

credit: New York Times
When it comes to DNA Barcoding in the media the really big stories mainly relate the seafood market. That started with the famous 'Sushigate' , now 6 years ago, where two high school students used the method to show that many items on menus in seafood restaurants were simply mislabeled. 

The increasing spate of species substitution and mislabelling in fish markets has become a concern to the public and a challenge to both the food industry and regulators. Species substitution and mislabelling within fish supply chains occurs because of price incentives to misrepresent products for economic gain. 

It seems only a matter of time that DNA Barcoding will be adapted as regular means of species identification in the seafood business and in fact regulatory agencies such as the US FDA have adopted it already. However, what would be the incentives to adopt the technology for supply chain monitoring is the technology actually feasible for a retailer?

A new study published in Genome tries to answer these questions:

However, the adoption of these authenticity technologies depends also on economic factors. The present study uses economic welfare analysis to examine the effects of species substitution and mislabelling in fish markets, and examines the feasibility of the technology for a typical retail store in Canada.

The study shows that DNA Barcoding is feasible for a typical retail store only if done in a third party laboratory. Considering fixed and other associated costs it is not doable on an individual retail store level.

Given the magnitude of the fixed costs and low food safety risk associated with fish species substitution in Canada presently, the adoption of DNA barcoding technology, particularly by small-scale retailers, is only likely if external testing facilities are available. In the longer run, the potential for retailers to pool resources by investing jointly in industry testing facilities may be worthy of examination, for example, small independent retailers may find it worthwhile to cooperate in the establishment of shared testing infrastructure. Although not directly derived from the analysis, large-scale retail stores with multiple outlets could spread the fixed costs associated with testing infrastructure over multiple stores with testing occurring at the retailers’ central warehouse. Indeed, this would be the most likely scenario for large retailers operating centralized distribution systems.

Good news for all the food testing labs that have been bubbling up recently especially if governments react to raising consumer concern and start changing the regulatory landscape with respect to food fraud. 

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