Researchers turn to jellyfish to fight food fraud

Credit: University of Southampton

Photo credit: University of Southampton

Fighting food fraud just became a little easier thanks to help of jellyfish and a team of researchers from the University of Southampton. The researchers are using a new tracking technique that is based on the chemical record animals who feed at sea inherit throughout their lives.

According to the research, animals who feed at sea develop a chemical record based on their feeding location and the chemicals present in the waterways of that specific area. Knowing this information, the team of researchers captured various jellyfish across the North Sea and built maps based on the chemical variation that they discovered from studying the jellyfish.

Then, the researchers compared the same chemical signals found in the jellyfish to those signals in scallops and herring caught in known places across the North Sea. The article explains that the researchers used statistical tests to find the areas of the North Sea with the most similar chemical compositions. These chemical tests were able to accurately link scallops and herring to their true locations, and can be used to test if the chemical composition of an animal matches a claimed area of origin.

“Understanding the origin of fish or fish products is increasingly important as we try to manage our marine resources more effectively,” lead researcher Dr. Clive Truema said in the article. “Fish from sustainable fisheries can fetch a premium price, but concerned consumers need to be confident that fish really were caught from sustainable sources,” he added.

This is important, he continued, because “genetic tests have revealed widespread mislabeling of the type of fish being sold worldwide, but currently we don’t have any way of testing where a fished product was caught.”

According to nationwide seafood report from released by Oceana, more than 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and less than 1% is inspected by the government specifically for fraud. The report also states that seafood including grouper, cod and snapper, may be mislabeled as often as up to 87% of the time for cheaper or more readily available seafood options.

While seafood fraud encompasses any illegal activity that misrepresents the fish you purchase, including mislabeling and falsifying documents, to adding too much ice to packaging, Oceana’s report focuses on seafood substitution and collected more than 1,200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states from 2010 to 2012 to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third, or 33%, of the 1,215 seafood samples were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

This new type of chemical testing of the source of marine food products, however, could be a powerful tool to help to fight food fraud, maintain healthy sustainable fish stocks or marine protected areas, and ensure consumer confidence in marine eco-labelling.

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