Have you ever gone to the supermarket and realised that you have absolutely no idea what species of fish you’re staring at?
Well, me too. (Almost all the time, actually.)
Here’s the bad news: This article won’t teach you how to become a seafood expert.
And here’s the good news: You’re not alone.
About 25% of Seafood Products in Singapore are Labelled Incorrectly
Yale-NUS student Sean Neo, as well as Associate Professor Wainright and Dr Caroline Kibat from the college’s division of science recently published an article regarding this in the academic journal Food Control.
According to Today, the study collected and examined 96 samples of pre-packaged seafood from 85 supermarkets and 11 restaurants throughout Singapore between January and April last year.
25.8% of the samples were found to be incorrectly labelled, with all of the mislabeled samples coming from supermarkets.
The three most frequently mislabelled fish were Anoplopoma fimbria (Sablefish) sold as Black Cod, Dissostichus eleginoides (Patagonian toothfish) sold as Cod or Seabass, and Pangasianodon hypophthalmus (Iridescent shark) sold as Dory or Bocourti.
Financial Gain as the Primary Motive
According to the study, it is believed that the main reason behind the mislabelling of seafood is the financial gain it brings.
However, there is still a possibility that some of the mislabelling was done accidentally due to the similar market names of some species.
For example, sablefish is commonly known as black cod in the UK, although this is only a regional name and both fish are actually not the same species.
Impact on Consumers
And here’s how labelling various seafood wrongly affects us.
The 25.8% mislabelling rate in Singapore is relatively higher than that of other countries such as Taiwan (17.4%) and Greece (13.5%), and its impacts can be largely negatively.
Firstly, there is a possibility of consumer health being affected due to the dangerous levels of various toxins in fish that are marketed wrongly. For example, patagonian toothfish actually contains dangerous levels of mercury.
Yup, whatever you thought was cod or seabass might have given you a rude shock for not being what you thought it was, but there’s still more about itself that it didn’t tell you about.
“This mislabelling has the potential to expose consumers to products that could contain toxins detrimental to health,” the study concluded.
Apart from consumer health, consumer confidence in sustainable seafood initiatives and conservation of marine life may be affected negatively as well.
So What’s Next?
The researchers at NUS acknowledged that accidental mislabelling of seafood is inevitable and it will continue to be so, especially with an exponentially increasing demand for cheaper seafood. Seafood fraud might also become a more prevalent issue in the future.
Although it might get harder to track down mislabelling due to the large scale of the seafood industry as well as the fact that it can happen at any stage of processing or packaging, there are ways for government to reduce the occurrence of mislabelling.
Strict measures such as “mandating clear labels that contain the product’s country of origin, the type of species, and whether it was caught wild or farmed” will allow consumers to make more well-informed choices regarding the seafood products they are purchasing, the researchers concluded.
In the meantime, don’t forget to double or even triple check your seafood before you buy it. Or maybe bring along your mum, because there’s nothing she can’t identify at the supermarket, right?
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