Monday, November 28, 2011

"I'll Have the Fish, If the DNA Test Comes Back Clean"

Restaurants around the world will soon use new DNA technology to assure patrons they are being served the genuine fish fillet or caviar they ordered, rather than inferior substitutes, an expert in genetic identification says.

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially approved so-called DNA barcoding - a standardized fingerprint that can identify a species like a supermarket scanner reads a barcode - to prevent the mislabeling of both locally produced and imported seafood in the United States. Other national regulators around the world are also considering adopting DNA barcoding as a fast, reliable and cost-effective tool for identifying organic matter.
This is not my biggest problem.  Probably 75% of the fish we eat I've caught, and so far, I've always been able to identify the fish to species pretty easily. I once had a little confusion with Weakfish and Speckled Trout, but I worked that out long ago, and anyway, they eat damn near the same.  Most of the rest is probably salmon, and as long as Georgia is happy after she buys it, I don't care much which salmon it is.

However, an astonishing amount of seafood is mislabeled.  Some of this is deliberate fraud; substituting a cheap fish for an expensive fish.  Caveat emptor.  If you can't tell the difference, you deserve the cheaper fish.  If you can, complain, or don't come back.

Some of it is due to the large number of fish and invertebrate species sold as seafood.  Among land animals, we are only accustomed to a limited number of species. Most of us eat cow, pig, chicken and turkey as meat.  That's pretty much it.  A few of us occasionally eat venison, rabbits, squirrels, and a few other non-mainstream animals (porcupine anyone? - I dare you). However, there really aren't enough common names for all the species of seafood that people eat.  And the differences between many of them are trivial.  To sell a catch a retailer may label them as something they resemble, at least in size, color and texture (after they've been cleaned prepared).  Again, I'm not too concerned with ignorance on the part of the consumer.

Finally, some of it is done to conceal the illegal (or at least undesirable) use of endangered fish that were caught illegally.  If the bar coding can stop this, go for it.

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