Seafood expert reveals why 30 per cent of seafood products are mislabelled or fraudulent

With 30 per cent of seafood on the international market found to be incorrectly labelled when tested, the Marine Stewardship Council has revealed the causes and implications – and how it is almost eliminating substitution and fraud in the industry.

Anne Gabriel, Oceania program director for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a global non-profit that sets a benchmark for sustainable fishing and traceable supply chains, will be speaking about this topic at the upcoming Asia Pacific Food Safety Conference in Sydney. The APAC Food Safety Conference is the leading food safety event in the Asia Pacific for retail, agriculture, food manufacturing and food-service professionals, and is organised by SAI Global.

“That such a significant proportion of the consumer seafood market is affected by substitution and fraud highlights the complexity of global food supply chains, which are inadequately regulated, and the challenges in monitoring every step. Substitution and fraud risk the sustainability of our global fishery resources, business reputations and consumer trust,” Gabriel said.

The two major causes of mislabelling
A motivation to boost profits is one of the two major causes of mislabelling. “Competition for low prices has motivated some food manufacturers to take shortcuts and make cheap substitutions. Scientific investigations have repeatedly revealed higher rates of mislabelling among premium products, such as wild-caught king salmon, in order to boost profits,” said Gabriel.

Accidental mislabelling is the second major cause. “Often, seafood is unintentionally mixed with different species at various points along the supply chain. This could be the result of poor systems or simply a lack of knowledge on the need for maintaining a traceable supply chain and to meet gaps in supply.”

Implications of seafood mislabelling
Gabriel says the implications can be alarming and wide ranging. Firstly, mislabelling can incentivise illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, estimated to cost the global fishing industry up to $33.8 billion a year. “This poses a significant risk to marine ecosystems, as it diminishes management efforts and can result in high levels of bycatch and abandoned ‘ghost nets’ damaging marine habitats,” she said. Secondly, the trade of vulnerable or endangered species can go undetected.

Thirdly, mislabelling deceives consumers. It can result in consumption of fish species that come with health warnings. Lastly, consumers might also be unwittingly purchasing less sustainable seafood options.

In her presentation, Gabriel will discuss the MSC’s efforts to improve traceability to tackle seafood mislabelling. The MSC’s third-party chain of custody program – which allows verified organisations to use the MSC’s blue fish tick label – is an effective deterrent for systematic and deliberate species substitution and fraud. DNA barcoding of more than 1400 MSC-labelled products has shown that less than 1 per cent were mislabelled. Anne says, “To be certain that a seafood product label is correct, we need to improve traceability back to the source – and through all stages of food production, processing and distribution. This is integral to ensuring oceans are teeming with life and seafood supplies are safeguarded for future generations.”

Each year the APAC Food Safety Conference attracts delegates involved in the development, implementation and maintenance of food safety programs across manufacturing, food services, food science, produce and retail. The 2019 conference will address current issues such as waste minimisation, food tampering, seafood fraud, food exports, and emerging superfoods.

Other speakers at the APAC Food Safety Conference will include:

  • Dr Craig Shadbolt, food incident response and complaints manager at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, who will discuss ‘Recent Outbreaks with High Risk Horticulture’.
  • Michelle Robertson, senior food scientist at Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, who will discuss ‘Review of Food Safety Management Requirements in Australia’.
  • Felipe Favaro, general manager at Hemp Foods Australia, who will discuss ‘Hemp Foods & Food Safety, Challenges and Opportunities’.
  • Mark Field, Head of Coles Brand, ‘Consumer Demands Driving Product Innovation and Emerging Food Trends’
  • Craig McGrath, Detective Inspector at Queensland Police Service, who will discuss ‘Police Investigative Perspective – Lessons Learnt’ on the strawberry tampering incident in Queensland.
  • Krista Watkins, food waste innovator at Natural Evolution, who will discuss ‘Minimising Food Waste’.