New research conducted by a team at Singapore’s Yale-NUS College found that 26% of seafood samples collected across supermarkets in Singapore were mislabelled.
The study was done at 3 major supermarket chains in Singapore which included NTUC Fairprice, Sheng Siong and Cold Storage. The 3 most frequently mislabelled fish in the retail stores are sablefish (sold as black cod), Patagonian toothfish (sold as cod or seabass) and iridescent shark (sold as dory or bocourti).
Sean Neo, Yale-NUS student and lead author of the report said, “Seafood mislabelling was indiscriminate across all supermarkets, which tells us that the issue occurs further up the supply chain.”
The research was published in the academic journal Food Control and was co-authored by assistant professor Benjamin J. Wainwright and Caroline Kibat from the division of science at Singapore’s Yale-NUS College.
Looking at the research findings, NTUC Fairprice said that it will continue to work together with the authorities and other relevant stakeholders to “ensure that consumers are empowered to make informed food choices”. Its spokesperson said that Fairprice adheres to strict food safety standards and sells only products approved for sale by the local authorities. He commented, “All pre-packed food products for sale in Singapore must be labelled according to the general labelling requirements of the Singapore Food Regulations set by the authorities.”
Neo said, “Many incidents of seafood mislabelling and substitutions occur unintentionally as subtle differences in appearance make the fish indistinguishable to the untrained eye.” Mislabelling could also occur due to the widely accepted local names that differ from the actual name of the species. For instance, the common market name for the goldbanded jobfish is white snapper, although they are 2 different fishes.
He added that there might also be profit-driven incentives that drive mislabelling of seafood, as the most expensive samples that he purchased from supermarkets were cod, but the testing process revealed that the actual fish he bought was Patagonian toothfish.
For consumers, the consequences of mislabelling seafood include health risks, as they may be exposed to elevated levels of environmental toxins without knowing. The study, for example, found levels of mercury considered unsafe in the Patagonian toothfish samples sold as cod.
Mislabelled seafood products can also negatively impact consumer confidence in sustainable seafood consumption initiatives.
To tackle the issue of mislabelling seafood, the research suggested that governments should implement national and international mandates that stipulate the inclusion of clear labels and product codes which indicate the product’s country of origin, species, and whether it was caught wild or farmed. Neo pointed to the US Food and Drug Administration’ (FDA) Seafood List as a good example. Putting in place such practices will allow consumers to make more informed choices on the food they consume.