Singapore relies heavily on seafood as a source of protein and nutrition, with an average consumption of 22 kg per capita, but according to a recent study by Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore), more than a quarter of this source of proteins could be fraudulently labeled and a potential threat to public health.
Researchers used DNA barcoding technology to identify the species of 89 seafood samples collected from restaurants and supermarkets across Singapore. Of these 89 samples, 23 or 25.8% were found to be mislabeled.
The mislabeling was determined based on a comparison between the names under which the seafood was labeled and sold in stores and its “real” name on the FDA’s International Seafood List, or the local species names (in the local language, e.g. Toman for Snakehead of Patin for Striped Pangasius) – indicating that seafood was sold under a name that “does not reflect his true genetic identity”.
“All mislabeled products came from supermarkets and were pre-packaged,” The study’s lead author, Sean Neo, said FoodNavigator-Asia.
“This could be a consequence of the fact that most seafood sold in Singapore is imported, especially pre-processed and packaged products sold in supermarkets.
“Fish processed for export are frequently cut into shapes and sizes that make them more compatible with modern efficiency-driven industrial processes (e.g., packing and canning lines), [removing] distinct species-specific morphological characteristics, which creates many opportunities for mislabeling.
According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, as of 2021, Singapore imports around 96% of its seafood – with the remaining 4% likely to consist more of higher value, unfrozen and unprocessed seafood. , aimed at local restaurants with less luck. labeling error.
“False labeling of seafood products can have a negative impact on consumer health and can hinder the conservation of marine resources through the sale of fish from unsustainably managed stocks or endangered species”,he added,
“[For instance]some species may contain high levels of environmental toxins or may themselves be poisonous, and their consumption may have adverse consequences.
“A serious example is puffer fish, which contains tetradotoxin, sold as burbot in the United States, resulting in neurological damage or hospitalization; and closer to home Patagonian toothfish – some samples of which have been sold in Singapore supermarkets as sea bass or cod – have been found to contain dangerous levels of mercury.
Patagonian toothfish sold as cod or sea bass was one of the most mislabeled fish in Singapore with six occurrences, along with sablefish sold as black cod (three occurrences) and iridescent shark sold as the name of Dory or Bocourti (three occurrences).
“It is likely that these substitutions are for profit, [but] it is also possible that the mislabeling is the result of confusion in labeling terms,”wrote the authors of the report.
“[But disturbingly]out of a total of 42 different species that were barcoded, we found 23 (54.8%) species mislabeled, meaning it could impact more than half of all seafood species entering Singapore.
Policy and technology to stem the problem
According to the report’s authors, the best way to tackle the problem of seafood adulteration in Singapore is to work towards a multinational, multi-governmental solution to implement policies to minimize such occurrences.
“As a country that imports the vast majority of its seafood, without coordinated and effective multinational efforts, there is little Singapore can do to prevent the sale of mislabeled products within its borders,”they said.
“Mislabelling can occur at any stage of the supply chain, and with each link and passing processing step, it becomes more and more complicated to identify the true species and country of origin. – However, governments may advocate, collaborate and develop stricter labeling practices at each stage to improve product traceability.
“The implementation of national and international mandates that stipulate the inclusion of clear product labels and codes [would] enable consumers to make more informed choices about the foods they eat. Likewise, the consumer must be prepared to pay a fair price to support these initiatives.
While this may be true, implementing policies involving multiple governments is not only a complicated process, but also a very time-consuming one. As things stand, within the seafood industry, there are players looking to change the entire seafood supply chain by disrupting it and making seafood from plant sources or cultivated using new technologies.
“The key is to create a seafood supply system that can feed people reliably and sustainably,”Mihir Pershad, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based cultured seafood company Umami Meats, told us.
“So if the technology is available to create seafood that’s as close to the real thing as possible – but eliminates the need to worry about supply chains [leading to fraudulent products on shelves]Why not?”
Source: Mislabeling Seafood in Singapore
Newspaper: food control
Authors: Neo, S. and. Al.