1 in 3 seafood products are mislabelled or fraudulent, expert reveals

SAI Global

Thursday, 20 June, 2019

1 in 3 seafood products are mislabelled or fraudulent, expert reveals

With 30% of seafood on the international market found to be incorrectly labelled when tested1, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has revealed the causes and implications, and how it is working to eliminate substitution and fraud in the industry.

Anne Gabriel, Oceania Program Director for the MSC, a global non-profit that sets a benchmark for sustainable fishing and traceable supply chains, will be speaking about this topic at the upcoming Asia Pacific Food Safety Conference in Sydney, organised by risk management company SAI Global.

“That such a significant proportion of the consumer seafood market is affected by substitution and fraud highlights the complexity of global food supply chains, which are inadequately regulated, and the challenges in monitoring every step. Substitution and fraud risk the sustainability of our global fishery resources, business reputations and consumer trust,” Gabriel said.

Causes of mislabelling

Gabriel explained the two major causes of mislabelling: a motivation to boost profits and accidental mislabelling.

“Competition for low prices has motivated some food manufacturers to take shortcuts and make cheap substitutions. Scientific investigations have repeatedly revealed higher rates of mislabelling among premium products, such as wild-caught king salmon, in order to boost profits.

“Often, seafood is unintentionally mixed with different species at various points along the supply chain. This could be the result of poor systems or simply a lack of knowledge on the need for maintaining a traceable supply chain and to meet gaps in supply.”

Implications of seafood mislabelling

She said the implications can be alarming and wide ranging. Firstly, mislabelling can incentivise illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, estimated to cost the global fishing industry up to $33.8 billion a year.

“This poses a significant risk to marine ecosystems, as it diminishes management efforts and can result in high levels of bycatch and abandoned ‘ghost nets’ damaging marine habitats,” she said.

Secondly, the trade of vulnerable or endangered species can go undetected. Thirdly, mislabelling deceives consumers and can result in consumption of fish species that come with health warnings. Lastly, consumers might also be unwittingly purchasing less sustainable seafood options.

In her presentation, Gabriel will discuss the MSC’s efforts to improve traceability to tackle seafood mislabelling. The MSC’s third-party chain of custody program — which allows verified organisations to use the MSC’s blue fish tick label — is an effective deterrent for systematic and deliberate species substitution and fraud. DNA barcoding of more than 1400 MSC-labelled products has shown that less than 1% were mislabelled.

“To be certain that a seafood product label is correct, we need to improve traceability back to the source — and through all stages of food production, processing and distribution. This is integral to ensuring oceans are teeming with life and seafood supplies are safeguarded for future generations,” she said.

Each year the APAC Food Safety Conference attracts delegates involved in the development, implementation and maintenance of food safety programs across manufacturing, food services, food science, produce and retail. Held at Doltone House on 20–22 August, the 2019 conference will address current issues such as waste minimisation, food tampering, seafood fraud, food exports and emerging superfoods.

Other speakers will include:

  • Dr Craig Shadbolt, Food Incident Response & Complaints Manager at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, who will discuss ‘Recent Outbreaks with High Risk Horticulture’.
  • Michelle Robertson, Senior Food Scientist at Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, who will discuss ‘Review of Food Safety Management Requirements in Australia’.
  • Felipe Favaro, General Manager at Hemp Foods Australia, who will discuss ‘Hemp Foods & Food Safety, Challenges and Opportunities’.
  • Mark Field, Head of Coles Brand, who will discuss ‘Consumer Demands Driving Product Innovation and Emerging Food Trends’.
  • Craig McGrath, Detective Inspector at Queensland Police Service, who will discuss ‘Police Investigative Perspective — Lessons Learnt’ on the strawberry tampering incident in Queensland.
  • Krista Watkins, Food Waste Innovator at Natural Evolution, who will discuss ‘Minimising Food Waste’.

For more information, visit: www.foodsafetyapac.com.

1. Pardo M.Á., Jiménez E., Pérez-Villarreal B. Misdescription incidents in seafood sector. Food Control. 2016; 62: 277-283.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Yulia Furman

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