Oceana study turns up something … very fishy

Proud fisherman with red snapper 'Bait and switch' has taken on a whole new meaning. True, there have always been unscrupulous merchants who have advertised one thing and sold you another.  But a report from conservation group Oceana shows that today the bait is being used on real fish, while the switch is being pulled on consumers. 

One section of the report warns that if you think you've bought red snapper or white probably haven't. Another section finds that seafood designated "Do Not Eat" by the FDA, is in fact widely sold and consumed.

The astonishingly widespread tactic is part of a wave of counterfeit, illicit, and graymarket goods worldwide which one expert has called the "global counterfeit economy."

In one of the largest seafood fraud investigations ever, Oceana found that a third of all fish samples collected were mislabeled. 1,215 fish samples were collected by Oceana from 674 retail outlets in 21 states.

Some key findings:

  • More than half (59 per cent) of the 46 fish types tested had mislabeling;
  • Only 7 of 120 red snapper samples (6 per cent)  were actually red snapper;
  • 84 per cent of white tuna samples were actually escolar, “a species that can cause serious digestive issues for some individuals...";
  •  Fish on the FDA’s 'Do Not Eat” list for sensitive groups such as pregnant women and children because of their high mercury content were sold to customers who had ordered safer fish;
  • Cheaper farmed fish were substituted for wild: pangasius sold as grouper and cod, and  farmed salmon sold as wild; and
  • Overfished and vulnerable species were substituted for more sustainable catch.

There are solutions. In Japan, Nissha company uses a new  system called 'DNA ink,' derived from plant DNA, to mark and authenticate labels on fish which have been widely counterfeited.

Nissha uses the DNA-infused ink from US company Applied DNA Sciences to secure the fresh fish supply chain for the Oita Fisheries Co-operative. Touted as the 'Moet of Mackerel', the highly prized Seki-mackerel is packaged with a product label printed in DNA ink, that certifies the origin, expiration and the shipment information. 

The identifying info is encoded in a tiny DNA mark that is trackable and traceable to a unique product.  At any point the data carried by the mark may be forensically verified by Applied DNA Sciences' labs just as surely as a crime lab uses DNA to identify people.

Applied DNA Sciences has developed a array of anti-counterfeit solutions used in businesses like textiles and apparel, law enforcement, and military electronics.
Dr. James Hayward, president and chief executive of Applied DNA Sciences, is the inventor of the term "global counterfeit economy,"  and says fighting it is his company's mission.

Hayward commented, "We are dedicated to making the world safer by assuring the identity of everything. Food fraud is a major global threat, and we aim to help put an end to it."

MeiLin Wan is an executive director at Applied DNA Sciences.

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