Friday, November 18, 2011

Specious Species: Fight against Seafood Fraud Enlists DNA Testing

In lecture, the genetic approach to monitoring whale meat species composition, reminded me of an article I had stumbled upon last week concerning seafood fraud. I found the article surprising, considering it has never crossed my mind that I might possibly be eating something that does not correlate to its labeling.

In summary, DNA fingerprinting, is being used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent seafood fraud. The FDA is improving its inspection and enforcement efforts. The FDA's library went live on November 1st and is now available to the public. It contains DNA bar codes from 250 species of frequently consumed fish, each identified by an expert using a specimen held at the Smithsonian as a reference. The agency is also developing a crustacean database covering species like shrimp, lobster and crab.

The cost for the FDA to run a DNA barcode test on a fish sample (not including labor and supplies) is only $10. By comparison, tests for seafood contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can run as high as $1,000 a sample. Essentially, cheap tests mean more analysis which would lead to less fraud. The cost has dropped so much that the FDA is also starting to look at mislabeled pet foods and wild game meat using the same technique. However, the article also mentions the problems that can arise when using DNA barcoding without a specific genetic marker, as well as the economics involved for businesses.

(article link)

For more information, a Consumer Report is available that reveals detailed findings.

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