DSCC News

Mislabelled fish slip into Europe's menus

2 April 2013

Source: BBC World News

Author: Stephen Evans

We are all eating much more fish than we used to - but are we eating the fish we think we are?

Official figures show that global consumption of fish and seafood per person is rising steeply - but research also reveals that much of what gets sold turns out to be not as described on the packet.

Earlier this year Europe's horsemeat scandal revealed how processed meat can get mislabelled in a complicated supply chain. That appears to be an issue with fish, too. On a large scale, cheap fish is being substituted for expensive fish without the consumer knowing. Moreover, new varieties, never before consumed, are being detected in fish dishes.

Take a British national dish, for example: fish and chips.Scientific testing reveals that the traditional cod or haddock and chips is often something else entirely. Research reveals that 7% of cod and haddock - the deep-fried staples of British fish and chips - actually turn out to be cheaper fish substituted to cut costs.

In the United States, a study showed that 25% of the fish served in restaurants in New York were not what they were said to be on the menu. And in Europe, about a quarter to a third of fish products tested turned out to be not what was described on the packet or menu.

New species

The global industry transports large amounts of frozen fish around the world in containers, with China producing much of it. This means, for example, that one of the biggest points of entry for fish into the European Union is not a port at all - no wharves or boats or even water. It is Frankfurt airport.

Samples here and elsewhere across Europe are tested at the big Eurofins laboratory in Hamburg. Its Director of Scientific Development, Dr Bert Popping, said that tests were turning up types of fish which had never been in the food chain before.

So researchers believe that there is large-scale deception going on when it comes to fish - cheap is being substituted for expensive, so deceiving the consumer and bumping up the profits of the deceiver.

Ecological risk

Nobody claimed there was a health risk - just that people were being deceived when they bought what they thought was an expensive fish. The lobbying group Oceana, which campaigns for tighter controls on fishing, said the industry was "murky and complex".

One of its scientists, Kimberly Warner, told the BBC that mislabelling of fish and seafood mattered not only because of the deception of consumers, but also because threatened fish, in overfished parts of the ocean, could be sold as unthreatened, abundant varieties.

"If you are going to pay for a wild seafood product, and you want to choose that seafood carefully for your health or for conservation concerns, you will not have that opportunity if you are just being served anything which the industry wants to serve up to you," she said.

The scientists who have studied the matter believe that mislabelling of fish is too widespread to be just an accident. They suspect fraud.

For more, go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21993684