Industry group condemns fish mislabelling

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Seafood, Fish

Something fishy? Up to one in seven fish sold in stores, fish and chip shops and restaurants may not be the species it was claimed to be
Something fishy? Up to one in seven fish sold in stores, fish and chip shops and restaurants may not be the species it was claimed to be
The industry body Seafish has condemned the practice of fish mislabelling after media reports claimed the practice was widespread.

Seafish chief executive Paul Williams said: “The practice of deliberately mislabelling seafood is entirely unacceptable and damaging to an industry which prides itself on the quality and sustainability of its products. Consumer confidence in the traceability of seafood is essential. The UK seafood supply chain has robust systems and procedures in place to mitigate issues in the labelling and traceability of products.”

Williams made the comments in response to a BBC News report, which questioned the authencity of fish offered for sale in the UK. "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,"​ claimed the report.

Williams said that studies by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2008 revealed that 10% of seafood products sampled were mislabelled, so there was evidence to show that the work carried out by industry to remedy mislabelling had proved effective.

‘Deliberately misleading consumers’

“Today's report shows that there is still a small percentage of mislabelling, and it is essential that anyone found to be deliberately misleading consumers is dealt with immediately by Trading Standards,”​ said Williams. “If seafood is bought from local fishmongers, reputable food outlets or supermarkets, it is more than likely to be labelled correctly due to the high standards they abide to.”

"Consumers should continue to have confidence in the industry while it works to ensure that this small percentage of mislabelling in the UK, whether through simple error or deliberated deception, is fully eradicated."

Meanwhile, up to one in seven fish sold in stores, fish and chip shops or restaurants may not be as they are labelled, according to Trading Standards statistics sent to the FSA. The council figures showed that 41 of 303 checks on packaged frozen or chilled fish and in catering businesses in 2011 revealed the contents did not match the label or claim made for the food.

Earlier this year research by Oceana, the largest international organisation dedicated to ocean conservation, revealed widespread seafood fraud in the US and Germany. 

In the US, up to one third of more than 1,200 seafood samples were mislabelled, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

Growth in aquaculture

The harvest of fish and seafood from the wild has remained broadly constant. But the rising demand for fish is leading to growth in aquaculture. Aquaculture is now the fastest growing animal food producing sector, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The limited availability of certain fish species is thought to lead to the substitution of valuable species with other less costly fish species.

To help remedy fish fraud, food testing laboratory Eurofins has launched a new service, which it claims to be “the most comprehensive range of analytical testing for the fish industry”. The service included DNA-based fish speciation and tests to ensure the quality and safety of fish and aquacultural products.

The organisation said DNA-based authenticity testing can be used to protect endangered fish species and to ensure the correct labelling of seafood and seafood products.

Meanwhile, earlier this year Europe’s horsemeat scandal revealed how processed meat can become mislabelled in a complicated supply chain.

To learn the lessons of the horsemeat crisis, Food Manufacture​ is staging a free, one-hour webinar on May 16, dedicated to identifying how food and drink managers can protect their businesses against a similar crisis. To reserve your place email Michael.stones@wrbm.com.

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