November 28, 2011
DNA Testing For Seafood
The US Food and Drug Administration (USDA) recently officially approved DNA barcoding for seafood in hopes of preventing the growing issue of the mislabeling, both locally produced and imported, into the United States, Rod McGuirk of the Associated Press (AP) reports.
Regulators from other countries are also considering adopting DNA barcoding as a cost-effective and highly reliable tool for identifying organic matter. The barcoding of DNA is essentially a standardized fingerprint that can identify a species, much like a supermarket scanner identifies a store product.
So-called “fish fraud”, has sparked Congressional hearings by exposing widespread mislabeling of cheaper fish as expensive and desirable species such as tuna or snapper. DNA barcoding also recently discovered unlisted ingredients in herbal tea bags.
Smithsonian Institution paleontologist and executive secretary of the Washington-based Consortium for the Barcode of Life, David Schindel, explains that discussions with the restaurant industry and seafood suppliers have begun about utilizing the technology as a means 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,” Schindel told The Associated Press. “We´re going to start seeing a self-regulating movement by the high-end trade embracing barcoding as a mark of quality,” he said.
Not every fish in every net would be required to be tested, but the DNA testing of a sample of several fish from a trawler load should assure a restaurant it is receiving what it has paid for, he said.
In 2009, a pair of New York high school students using DNA barcoding of food stocked in their own kitchens found that caviar labeled as sturgeon was actually that of a Mississippi paddlefish.
Another pair of high school students in 2008 found that one-fourth of fish samples they had collected around New York were incorrectly labeled as higher-priced fish, which can have risks to human health and the environment.
In 2007, several people became seriously ill from eating illegally imported toxic pufferfish from China that had been mislabeled as monkfish to circumvent US import restrictions. Endangered species are also sold as more common fish varieties.
More than 167,000 species are included in the Barcode of Life Database as of now with more expected as interest in food safety and correct labeling grows.
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