Some fishy DNA results have drawn attention to food mislabelling in Canada. According to Global News, Dr. Jen McDonald and the students in her molecular biology course at Fanshawe College used DNA sequencing to fact-check how grocery stores and restaurants labelled their fish. Their results, which McDonald revealed on Twitter (@AwesomeBiota), were shocking. The students discovered that samples labelled as “red tuna” and “red snapper” were actually tilapia which was dyed red. One sample of “white tuna” was actually escolar, a type of fish banned in Japan as toxic because of its laxative properties. And one sample of “salmon” was unidentifiable but was found to contain body louse DNA. Only two fish samples were correctly labelled.
Food fraud is not a new phenomenon, but it has come to prominence particularly after 2013, when European investigations revealed undisclosed horse meat in beef products. According to BoredPanda, food fraud is a $50 billion industry.
Fish and meat are tricky because once they have been processed, packaged, or served, they are difficult to identify. As Prof. Sylvain Charlebois, a food systems scholar at Dalhousie University, explained to Global News, “Unless, you buy the fish with the head attached to it it’s difficult to really know which species you are dealing with.”
There are a number of ways consumers can take charge of what they are eating. Prof. Tammara Soma, director of the Food Systems Lab at Simon Fraser University, encourages consumers to buy locally and cut out any middlemen in the supply chain to reduce resources being over exploited. Organization like the Marine Stewardship Council offer certification, which can help consumers verify that they are buying the correct fish. Ultimately, though, Prof. Charlebois advises that the responsibility is on the retailer to ensure accurate labelling. The consumer’s best bet to protect against counterfeit goods is to buy from a trusted source and ask questions about the product.