Vancouver is said to be an ideal place for seafood lovers who want to eat local. However, almost one-quarter of the seafood sold in Metro Vancouver is mislabeled, according to a new study carried out by researchers from the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Lu Food Safety & Health Engineering Lab.
In the study, UBC researchers collected 281 samples of fish and other seafood from grocery stores, sushi bars and restaurants in Metro Vancouver (Richmond, Vancouver, Coquitlam, West Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver, Surrey and Langley) between September 2017 and February 2018. They carried out DNA testing of these samples to determine the true species.
The study was carried out partnership with independent charity Oceana Canada and the Hanner Lab at the University of Guelph.
Researchers found that 70 of the 281 samples were mislabeled either intentionally or by mistake. It was revealed that some seafood sold as snapper was actually tilapia.
“Different countries — their accepted common names for some sea species are not quite the same. So there could be some unintentionally mislabeled products during the shipment,” said Yaxi Hu, a PhD candidate at UBC and the lead author of the current study.
According to Hu, these results are comparable with an older study done by the school about 10 years ago.
“We aim to comprehensively understand the fraudulent labeling of fish products sold in Metro Vancouver, as the first step in studying the complicated seafood supply chain that serves the west coast of Canada,” said Xiaonan Lu, who leads the Lu lab.
“Our study demonstrates the importance of improving both the regulation of seafood labeling, and the transparency of the fish supply chain.”
According to Yaxi Hu it is difficult to find out why and when a sample was mislabeled in the complicated global supply chain as a fish can pass through many countries before actually arriving at a supermarket. It is likely that a fish is caught in Canada, gutted in China, and breaded in the U.S. before eventually sold back to Canada as an American product. It is also possible that someone intentionally mislabel a sample to pass it off as a more expensive product—a fraud that can badly impact the health of consumers. It would expose consumers to allergens and toxins if they consume a mislabeled fish.
“Seafood fraud hurts our oceans, it hurts our health and it hurts our wallets,” said Julia Levin, a seafood campaigner with Oceana Canada, which helped with the research in the study.
“As a consumer, if you want to make a responsible decision about seafood, you have to know exactly what you’re getting — like the species — and exactly how it was caught, whether it was farmed, whether it was wild caught and the gear that was used, as well as where it came from,” she said.
According to researchers, this problem is not just limited to B.C. Last year, Oceana Canada collected 98 seafood samples from around Ottawa and found that nearly 50 percent of them were mislabeled.
Both Hu and Levin suggest that consumers should be offered more information about their seafood, such as scientific names of fish and information about the site where the product was caught.
The detailed findings of the study were published in the journal Food Control.