Oceana, the largest international organization focused exclusively on ocean conservation, revealed that, in almost 1 out of every 3 fish samples taken in three Mexican cities, the fish in the plate was not the fish in the menu or label.
The investigation found that 31% of almost 400 samples of fish analyzed in restaurants, supermarkets and fish markets in Mexico City, Mazatlán and Cancún, were mislabeled.
“The results of this analysis tell us that every day thousands of consumers in Mexico ask for one species of fish and receive another one", said Renata Terrazas, director of transparency campaigns of Oceana Mexico.
Terrazas, who is charge of the investigation Gato por Liebre (a popular Mexican phrase used to describe fraudulent substitution), made clear that, comparatively, the levels of substitution in the analyzed samples were fewer in supermarkets (17%) compared to restaurants (34%) and fish markets (36%).
Nevertheless, it was in supermarkets where the worst practice of substitution and fraud took place, and where cheap products were sold to the public under the name and price of expensive products.
Oceana's investigation, the first one of its type and scale in Mexico, used genetic identification of DNA in a professional laboratory to examine the samples of fish taken in 133 establishments.
The comparison between the name that samples were sold under and the actual species purchased was done based on scientific names found in publicly available databases. The study determined that a substitution existed when the scientific name identified genetically was different from the common name the sample was sold under.
Pedro Zapata, Vicepresident of Oceana Mexico said that the sampling did not focus in any particular fish, which allowed Oceana to document a high diversity of species commercialized in the three cities, and to register at least 100 different species, sold under 48 common names.
According to the report, the most substituted fish was marlin followed by spanish mackerel, grouper, red snapper and snook.
During the investigation, Oceana also found 21 threatened and near-threatened species, according with the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of the Nature. These samples, which include 5 species of shark and several species of fish and eels, represent 11% of all the samples.
"This report is a photograph of the commercialization patterns for fish Mexico City, Cancún and Mazatlán, and it makes clear that there is no certainty on what we are being sold", said Zapata.
Although the study revealed a 30% rate of mislabeling in the three Mexican cities, the analyses do not reach any conclusions about the reasons behind the substitution or mislabeling of species, or whether it was accidental or intentional. Furthermore, with the information contained in the study, its also impossible to determine exactly where in commercial chain the substitution happened.
The study revealed a high correlation between the availability of a species of fish, its demand, and its price, which explains why mislabeling was more common in the most popular species among Mexican seafood consumers. It is in these cases that the mislabeling is most likely fraudulent, since cheaper species like tilapia are often sold under the name and the price of more expensive species like red snapper.
"Almost 60% of the mislabeling occurred using species of lower value. This was most prevalent in cases like grouper, snook and red snapper, which were often replaced with tilapia, catfish or skate. The remaining 40% of substitutions happened for a lesser known fish of similar value", said Zapata.
Renata Terrazas highlighted the need to guarantee the flow of information about the identity and the origin of seafood species throughout the commercial chain and to establish standards in the traceability of the information up to the final consumer.
The report also found that the deficiencies in the chain of custody and commercialization of fish allow for the mislabeling and substitution of species, which opens the doors for the commercialization of illegal fishing.
Oceana pointed out three actions that the Government of Mexico can take immediately to begin to correct this problem:
1) Better labelling rules for seafood, which would give consumers the information they need to make informed choices.
2) A mandatory standard of traceability in seafood, from bait to plate.
3) An official list of the names with which commercial species can be labelled.
See the full report at www.gatoxliebre.org