In October, the Food and Drug Administration officially approved DNA barcoding that can identify a fish species to prevent the mislabeling of local and imported seafood in the United States.
An expert in genetic identification claims restaurants around the world will soon use new DNA technology to guarantee customers are being served the same authentic fish they ordered from the menu instead of a substandard imitation.
So for instance, Yellowtail will no longer be able to be substituted for mahi-mahi; Nile perch won’t be labeled as shark, and restaurants won’t be able to claim that catfish is grouper.
Labeling fraud of commercial seafood is rampant. As much as 20 to 25 percent of seafood is fraudulently labeled in North America and Europe. And since approximately 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is now imported, rates of fraud in some species can run as high as 70 percent.
The most extensive fraud involves the substitution of the far-less expensive fish tilapia with red snapper as well as the mislabeling of Asian Catfish as grouper.
In 2008, a couple of enterprising teenagers collected 56 fish samples in stores and restaurants in New York City, and sent the samples in to the University of Guelph in Canada to be identified. Of the 56 samples identified by DNA barcoding, 14 were mislabeled. In all cases the fish were labeled as a more expensive fish.
In essence, the entire seafood industry is more or less involved in a massive cover-up involving fraud, deception, mislabeling and substitution, and the deception extends to restaurants, retailers and cabal of sushi fish suppliers.
David Schindel, a Smithsonian Institution paleontologist and executive secretary of the Washington-based Consortium called the Barcode of Life, began discussions with the restaurant industry and seafood suppliers about implementing the barcode technology as a way of certifying the authenticity of “delicacies”.
“When they sell something that’s really expensive, they want the consumer to believe that they’re getting what they’re paying for,” says Schindel.
“We’re going to start seeing a self-regulating movement by the high-end trade embracing barcoding as a mark of quality,” he said.
While it would never be economically viable to DNA test every fish, it would be possible to test a sample of several fish from a trawler load, he said.
DNA bar coding identifies gene sequences in the fish’s flesh. “The genetics have been revolutionary,” said Stefano Mariani, a marine researcher at University College Dublin.
“The DNA bar coding technique is now routine, like processing blood or urine. And we should be doing frequent, random spot checks on seafood like we do on athletes.”
The FDA has reportedly purchased gene sequencing equipment for five field laboratories. This new type of testing could allow hundreds of thousands of samples to be tested each year, instead of only hundreds.