Fish market. (Photo: Visitor7/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Market research warns of bluefin tuna and other species fraud
Friday, February 28, 2014, 23:30 (GMT + 9)
The question of fish traceability has been a major issue in Europe, especially for the supermarket sector, which has already undergone serious problems with adulterated meat.
Studies in various countries of the European Union show labelling fraud rates, which are sometimes very high: 32 per cent of fraud in Italy, 30 per cent in Spain in hake alone, and 19 per cent in cod in Ireland, to name only some. Meanwhile, the replacement of species in France remains low, about 3.5 per cent (compared to the UK, where it is 6 per cent).
In this context, Bloom and Oceana have joined in France with researchers from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the National Museum of Natural History, and Terra Eco magazine, to carry out an unprecedented research on fraud in fish labelling.
For a year, sampling was conducted in ten regions. Researchers collected nearly 400 samples of fresh produce from supermarkets, fish shops, restaurants, ready meals and ultra frozen foods.
They detected no fraud case in species such as Alaska pollock, sea bass, saithe, monkfish and whiting. However, they found that cod had been substituted in 4.2 per cent of cases (6 out of 143 samples) for haddock or hake, species of lower commercial value.
Instead, the fraud was alarming in the case of bluefin tuna: four out of five samples (80 per cent) mentioning "bluefin tuna" actually were other tuna species: yellowfin or bigeye tuna, that is to say, both of lower commercial value.
Oceana reported that the level of deception reached 100 per cent (16 out of 16 cases) when information on the species is asked to a waiter: if the menu only indicates "tuna" and waiters are requested to specify the species, they normally state that it is bluefin tuna, a certainly wrong answer.
Out of 117 samples of frozen products and ready meals, no case of fraud was found. However, problems were detected in fresh fish sold in fillets: 8 per cent of fresh fish fillets sold at fish shops and 4 per cent of fish sold on supermarket shelves did not match the label. In restaurants, fraud in the labelling was found in 4 per cent of cases.
Oceana said the work of laboratory genetic sequencing was complemented by a field research developed by Terra Eco magazine, which allowed tracing the supply chain of fish and understand where fraud came from. The conclusion is that it mainly appears at the end of the chain: fish shop and restaurants interrogated under anonymity acknowledged having replaced the labels or names of species knowingly.