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DNA Bar Coding Finds Mislabeled Sushi 285

Posted by timothy
from the travesty-of-the-seas dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that Kate Stoeckle and Louisa Strauss, who graduated this year from the Trinity School in Manhattan, took on a freelance science project to check 60 samples of seafood using a simplified genetic fingerprinting technique called DNA Bar Coding to see whether the fish New Yorkers buy is what they think they are getting, and found that one-fourth of the fish samples with identifiable DNA were mislabeled: A piece of sushi sold as the luxury treat white tuna turned out to be Mozambique tilapia, a much cheaper fish that is often raised by farming. Roe supposedly from flying fish was actually from smelt." (More below.)
"Seven of nine samples that were called red snapper were mislabeled, and they turned out to be anything from Atlantic cod to Acadian redfish, an endangered species. The project began over dinner with Stoeckle's father, a scientist and early proponent of the use of DNA bar codings. Instead of sequencing the entire genome, bar coders examine a single gene. Dr. Stoeckle said he was excited to see the technology used in a new way and compared the technique to GPS. 'The smaller and cheaper you make something,' he said, 'the more uses it has.'"
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DNA Bar Coding Finds Mislabeled Sushi

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  • So..?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:38PM (#24709791) Homepage Journal
    What are you going to do? Please, don't waste your research and not.. report these! I want a certified sushi organization. There's money to be made!
  • Big Surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RemoWilliams84 (1348761) on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:45PM (#24709923)
    Is anyone really surprised that a business is selling cheaper fish off as a more expensive one.
  • Doesn't cooking destroy DNA?
  • by hey! (33014) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:00PM (#24710147) Homepage Journal

    So, what are the Japanese names of the fish in question?

    After all, the North American "Trout" is really closer to a salmon than the European "Trout". A North American "Bass" is really just a big sunfish. People came over here and used the old fish names for critters of similar size and habits.

    The "Chilean Sea Bass" was a deliberate renaming of the Patagonian Toothfish to have a more commercially desirable name.

    So, all in all there are at least five different distinct families of fish that are called "bass".

  • seems to be common (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:04PM (#24710209) Homepage Journal
    Seems like test like this were run last year as well. Product was mislabeled and sold as a product that was percieved to be more desirable. The funny thing is that, as shown here, most people cannot tell the difference, which begs the question of whether it matters that a product was substituted. Sure, from a legal and honesty perspective yes. But if a restaurant that was serving tilapia, and pricing it as such, would the diner have enjoyed it as much? In addition, I seem to recall restaurants are subbing food because the real product is either not available or prohibitively expensive, so the diner would be denied the experience of dining just because ingredients are not available.

    Again, if the restaurants substituted food, they are being dishonest and should face whatever legal consequences occur. OTOH, sometimes we humans are willfully gullible just so we can enjoy the experience of eating without having to pay for it. We drink fruit drinks with almost no fruit, eat beef burritos with almost no beef, and heart healthy omelets with almost no eggs. Life, in many cases, is a fiction, and the only issue are those that believe it. Although the tech is cool, we are not going to reduce our meals to a science experiment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:11PM (#24710297)
    I thought sushi was rice, not fish?
  • Re:Big Surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_humeister (922869) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:22PM (#24710477)
    What's interesting is that it actually takes a DNA test to determine this. For the most part, people can't taste the difference between these fish. So, in these high-end restaurants, you're really just buying into an illusion. I wonder if foodies and other food connoisseurs would be able to tell the difference.
  • by citylivin (1250770) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:28PM (#24710579)

    "The funny thing is that, as shown here, most people cannot tell the difference, which begs the question of whether it matters that a product was substituted."

    I've had godawful salmon at sushi restaurants but what is your recourse? Don't eat there pretty much. Its not like your going to call out the owner and say - hey this is shome shite fish you got here! I'd imagine most people can tell that its not as good as the normal sushi they are used to, but attribute it to bad chefs or lack of freshness. Of course some people who have never known good sushi (east coasters) would have no idea what to expect. Maybe the people who frequent these places simply have no idea what the correct fish is supposed to taste like.

    "we are not going to reduce our meals to a science experiment."

    If they made a handheld personal computer which took a sample of food and judged its purity, or broke down its components by DNA, there would for sure be a market. If for no other reason than to not pay for inferior food. The device would pay for itself in a month for someone who eats out alot. Empowering people to make smart buying decisions themselves always has a market. Dont think of it as a science experiment, but more of a game. Many people obsessively care about what they put in their bodies. That is why mandatory nutritional information has been on all foodstuffs since the mid 90s.

    People love to catch other people in a lie. It makes them feel superior, and rightly so.

  • by Amouth (879122) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:34PM (#24710639)

    you can tell the diffrence by looking at it and touching it. (you can tell through gloves or thin plastic)

    if you work with fish enough - you should be able to tell what fish you are working with by just looking at it and maybe touching it.

    while i wouldn't know some exotic south specific fish - any that are found off NC i could identify quite easily - then again i used to work at a fish mart. and fished alot growing up.. so i was exposed to it.

    i would expect any sushi chef worth a damn to be able to do the same for what he is serving.

    and as for the diffrense between kobe beef and normal stuff you get.. again you can tell the diffrence by just touching it - if you know what your are looking for

  • Re:So..?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:43PM (#24710783) Journal

    I saw this on Yahoo News this morning, I think it was an AP or UPI story so it could have been the same one, but the article I saw didn't even mention sushi, but different species of fish, and named the species that were misrepresented.

    One sample was from an endangered species.

    Seems that it should be a government function, say the FOOD and drug administration, to not only make sure that your food won't kill you but that what you pay for is what you get.

    Restaraunts here sell walleye [], but walleye is in dangered and illegal (at least accorsing to a restaurant owner I talked to) so they sell pollack [] and call it walleye. IMO it should be illegal to put "ribeye steak" on the menu and serve you dog.

  • by lgw (121541) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:57PM (#24711015) Journal

    Of course some people who have never known good sushi (east coasters) would have no idea what to expect. Maybe the people who frequent these places simply have no idea what the correct fish is supposed to taste like.

    It's charming the way that West Coasters, especially Californians, imagine they have better food than other regions. Dead wrong, but charming.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @04:39PM (#24711537)

    I can attest to that, from the meat side. I used to work as a butcher's assistant - sure I didn't man the saw much, but I arranged the platters and handled it enough. You can tell quite readily between even normal meat and premium meat - to say nothing of organic gold like Kobe.

  • Re:sushi, sashimi (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ari_j (90255) on Friday August 22, 2008 @04:46PM (#24711639)
    Not only that, but can't sushi also contain cooked fish? That said, when the article talks about one quarter of fish with identifiable DNA, it seems obvious that he's not taking DNA from cooked seafood or from rice.
  • Re:So..?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KDR_11k (778916) on Friday August 22, 2008 @04:55PM (#24711795)

    Fraud is no part of a free market and does not deserve any protection.

  • by HiThere (15173) <> on Friday August 22, 2008 @05:01PM (#24711883)

    For certain meanings of fix.

  • Re:Big Surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by illegalcortex (1007791) on Friday August 22, 2008 @05:02PM (#24711901)

    Well, yes and no. With any dish, ingredients are going to vary in quality and the cooking/preparing will also vary. So you go into a restaurant, order Red Snapper and after eating it you thought it was just OK. Maybe the chef didn't know what they were doing. Maybe that particular fish just wasn't a good specimen. Maybe it's been frozen a bit long. Maybe it's a bit past the sell by date.

    Or maybe it's not Red Snapper.

    In my personal experience, I've had really good Red Snapper, and I've not so good Red Snapper. Was the difference because of the former factors, or because of the latter? Not having a raw sample and a DNA test, I couldn't tell you for sure.

  • by voss (52565) on Friday August 22, 2008 @05:14PM (#24712061)

    So theyll sell pikeperch which tastes almost exactly the same but costs a lot less. Its illegal to mislabel to do so but hard to enforce

  • Re:Great... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday August 22, 2008 @05:28PM (#24712219)

    Getting it hot and covering it with a salty...oh, hell, I'm not even going to finish that one.

    I would have paid good money for you to not even have started that one.

    How can I get the images out of my head?

  • Re:So..?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Friday August 22, 2008 @05:29PM (#24712241)

    It is illegal to mis-represent items for sale. You want more legislation than that?

    How about enforcement? I'm not going to perform random DNA samples on my food. But I still expect to be sold what it says on the label/menu, so someone has to do that verification.

  • Re:So..?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KDR_11k (778916) on Friday August 22, 2008 @05:30PM (#24712251)

    Fraud falls under criminal law so yes, it is the govt's job to police that. A fraudulent label waiting for someone to fall for it is no different from a fraudster standing at a street corner looking for a suitable mark, except it's much easier to prove that there was intent to deceive with the label.

  • Re:So..?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Friday August 22, 2008 @06:11PM (#24712795)

    Short of doing the test yourself you have no assurance of anything.

    I trust 'a government body doing testing' more than 'no one doing testing'.

    The FDA is an unelected body and cannot be sued by the individual or corporation. It acts almost autonomously and always in it's own best interests not yours.

    I've dealt with the FDA in the course of work, and while they make operate in their best interests, and they burden business with a shit-ton of make-work; but they don't seem particularly corrupt to me. Bureaucratic and arbitrary, but not corrupt.

    If you wish to have people test restaurants in this manner then gather together with others and organize a body to do it.

    I already did that, I formed a government, and then elected representatives to form bodies like the FDA for precisely this purpose.

    You charge both your memebers and restaurants. You publish your methods and your results. Your members and restaurants would flock to you if this was seen as a good thing.

    They do indeed see it as a good thing. If we deny them a license to sell goods or operate, they are finished. If we find they have violated the laws we have passed they are punished.

    Think michellin guide but on a whole new level.

    I'm already operating on a whole other level.

    Of course you won't do the above, not because it's not a good idea but because you are too lazy/cheap and want other people to pick up the tab for what you deem a necessity.

    I do pick up the tab. I pay a healthy dose in taxes to fund these government regulatory bodies.

    And at the end of the day, I don't WANT a voluntary organization that restaurants sign up to. I don't want to to go into a market or restaurant and have to check the for logos and certifications just to be confident that when I order Alberta beef tenderloin that I'm not served mexican donkey.

    I want standards to be mandatory and enforced nationwide.

  • Re:So..?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:40PM (#24714609)

    and you are asking me to pick up the short fall for something I do not want.

    That's part of being part of a democratic society. We disagree, we take a vote, we act. Someone is always unhappy about something.

    I think overall that we do in fact want, as a collective society, to set standards on food quality and to enforce accuracy in labeling so we are going to enact an agency of some sort to do that. Every country I'm familiar with has such rules and enforcers. So even if we had a perfect democracy and you could call a referendum tomorrow and have a well informed population vote on it, you'd probably find we'd end up choosing to have such an enforcement body.

    Granted the actual democracy pretty much sucks, and I don't think ANYONE wants the FDA in its current form, but the solution isn't to abolish them. And even if we got rid of them, we'd likely just create another one shortly thereafter. Its what the majority wants.

  • Re:So..?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by interactive_civilian (205158) <mamoru@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday August 22, 2008 @11:46PM (#24715445) Homepage Journal

    So says Arterion:

    Exactly! Who cares what is it as long as it tastes good. This is snobbery at its finest.

    So, you don't mind being charged double or triple the cost of something because it is labeled as something more expensive? As long as it tastes good, that isn't a issue for you?

  • Re:So..?? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pseudometrometeorgin (936473) on Friday August 22, 2008 @11:48PM (#24715455)
    I eat much sushi, and have been ripped off before. For example, flying fish roe (aka tobiko), looks very similar to smelt roe (aka masago). The difference is that tobiko is much tastier and much more expensive than masago. Some establishments assume I can't tell the difference, but I can. Usually, when I correct their mistake, I am compensated with some free sushi.
  • Re:So..?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Walkingshark (711886) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @12:31AM (#24715695) Homepage

    So, for example, if someone slips some corn product into a food product and doesn't put it on the label because "buyer beware" then when I, a person with an allergy to corn, eats it and gets sick/dies, guess I'm just SOL? I guess so, in your world. I guess it would also be ok for me to pop your head like a melon from 1000 yards and then take all your stuff, since you're so against government regulation of private behavior.

  • Re:So..?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drsmithy (35869) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .yhtimsrd.> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @09:49AM (#24718165)

    Is there some health reason why canis lupus is verboten?

    Since dog meat is illegal to sell [in that location], it is a given that any of it being sold has not been subject to any sort of meaningful quality control. Which means you might be eating a purebred St Bernard, strangely missing from the household of the richest man in the area, or you might be eating whichever mangy, disease-ridden, mongrel was unlucky enough to be in the alley behind the restaurant twenty minutes ago.

    So, yes, in places where dog is illegal to sell there are almost certainly health reasons why it is a bad idea.

Real Users never know what they want, but they always know when your program doesn't deliver it.