Mislabelling found in Chinese study of online caviar sales

A study of caviar samples bought from Chinese online retailer Taobao has found no evidence of substitution with roe from other fish species, although a sizeable minority of samples were found to be mislabelled.

Scientists from China and Italy examined 360 samples of caviar – salted roe from sturgeon – taken from 40 different caviar brands offered for sale on Taobao, and used DNA testing to identify the species of fish that laid the eggs and compare that to what was claimed on the label.

Every sample was found to come from a species of sturgeon, so met the requirements of being genuine caviar, although the actual species claimed on the label was inaccurate in around 42 per cent of cases.

There were some examples in which products were labelled as Beluga caviar – which command a premium price in the marketplace – when DNA analysis revealed the roe was from cheaper species or hybrids.

This results "exclude the presence of fraudulent counterfeiting of sturgeon caviar with caviar substitutes," write the authors in the journal Food Control.

However, it has highlighted "evident gaps in the product traceability monitoring system, highlights the failure to comply with the obligations of transparency and loyalty towards the consumer as well as a possible voluntary frauds perpetrated for economic purposes."

China has become a major producer of caviar in recent years, topping the production table ahead of Russia, the USA and Europe. Most of that its output is destined for export, although domestic sales of the delicacy have been on the rise.

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