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Biotech Science

DNA Bar Coding Finds Mislabeled Sushi 285

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!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sm62704 ( 957197 )

      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 danger

      • Re:So..?? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @04:39PM (#24711535) Journal

        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.

        I wonder if it's the restaurants pulling one, or their suppliers (or both)

        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.

        Walleye endangered? I've never heard of that...sounds wacky to me, they're all over the great lakes, etc. (correction after looking it up -- the BLUE walleye has been extinct for about 30 years, but there are still lots of regular walleye).

        I had walleye on a stick at the Minnesota state fair--it was great! My dad used to catch them when he was a kid too.

        • It might be a state law. I know for a fact that you cannot have sturgeon in Nebraska, as it's endangered here.
      • I think you are somehow getting "walleye" confused with "cod."

        They are both fish, so it's an easy mistake. I guess.

      • 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:So..?? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:47PM (#24710839) Journal

      Well, perhaps a certification kit could be made that consumers could use every so often to check on their fishmongers and Sushi bars. Hopefully it wouldn't cost that much but costs would be proportional to the type of food tested. I know some rare sushi can get expensive. I would like to know I'm getting my money's worth. You could then pool the resources and rate different establishments on honesty. Obviously there might be a potential for abuse. So even if i just randomly check and can take the box to the kit comes in with me so they know I'll be looking and give me the right stuff, I would know I got my money's worth and probably find a trusted supplier that I would frequent.

      • by Jerf ( 17166 )

        It wouldn't take a kit like that in the hands of very many consumers to have a radical effect on honest labeling.

        People often point out that capitalism assumes perfect information on the part of the consumer, which doesn't exist, but this is how it largely keeps going; a few consumers can cause enough pain for a liar (with government assist) to keep the market disproportionately honest. Even a single kit-assisted lawsuit could have a surprisingly large effect.

  • by Eg0Death ( 1282452 ) * on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:39PM (#24709807)
    ...can you check the DNA in that? I hope it's not anyone I know.
  • by dakirw ( 831754 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:44PM (#24709889)
    It'll be interesting to see whether the sushi shops or fish vendors mislabel on purpose. There's powerful incentive to misidentify if you can get away with it - substitute some cheap fish for premium ones, like the premium tuna example in the article. Also interesting that the students found endangered fish samples as well...
    • I imagine the technique could be spread to locate the upstream fish provider who illegally caught the endangered fish... Is there any movement in that direction?

    • by clodney ( 778910 )

      Not quite a comparable case, but there was a mini scandal here in Minnesota recently when it turned out that in many cases what a restaurant sold as walleye (a local favorite) was actually zander.

      If I recall correctly, most of the restaurants put the blame on their suppliers, who sold them filets as opposed to whole fish. Without buying whole fish, the claim that the restaurant was duped is quite easy to believe.

      If the sushi shops are not buying whole fish, it would be easy to be deceived. But I have to b

      • If I recall correctly, most of the restaurants put the blame on their suppliers, who sold them filets as opposed to whole fish. Without buying whole fish, the claim that the restaurant was duped is quite easy to believe.

        And to safeguard their reputations, they probably need to start DNA-testing their purchases. A statistically-valid random sampling scheme wouldn't cost outrageously much, and being able to say that your tai is really red snapper ("Red snapper... very tasty!") would be (to coin a phrase) pr

  • 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.
    • Re:Big Surprise (Score:5, Informative)

      by zarkill ( 1100367 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:54PM (#24710055)

      Here in Tampa, Florida area, this was recently a very big deal. One of the things Tampa is famous for is Grouper, and several well-known restaurants were found to be serving cheaper fish instead of Grouper.

      6 out of 11 restaurants served cheaper fish [].

      According to that article though it's hard to tell whether the deception was intentional, and even if so, who was deceptive: the restaurant, the wholesaler, etc.

      • 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.
        • 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.

          Not really that interesting. Bait and switch (pun unintentional but welcome) is a pretty damning charge so you'd better make sure your evidence is better than subjective flavor opinions from imperfect humans.

        • by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @04:49PM (#24711681) Journal

          We secretly replaced this group's sushi with Folger's crystals. Let's see if they notice...

        • 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.

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

            by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:10PM (#24714767)
            It's amazing how much of the popularity (and price) of seafood relies on its cachet rather than its taste. In colonial times, lobster was considered trash [] and people resented having to eat it too much. Pollock [] and haddock [] were considered bycatch in the pursuit of cod. Until the cod fisheries were wiped out and the fishermen needed to find something else to catch. Now the pollack and haddock are the staple foodfishes (if you've ever eaten frozen fish sticks or a fish sandwich, it's probably one of these fish). As halibut declined in numbers, sole and flounder were marketed as replacements.

            The same thing happened to orange roughy [] and monkfish [] (both some of the most hideous looking fish you'll ever see), and shark (difficult to prepare because of the high ammonia content in the meat). All were once considered trash and literally shoveled overboard in the pursuit of (at the time) more valuable fish. Now that those more valuable fish have been overfished, the industry spruces up the image of what was formerly considered trash fish to sell to the public.

            BTW, what's sold as red snapper often isn't red snapper. Pretty much any of the snappers [] and frequently any of the rockfishes (aka rock cod) [] are sold as red snapper. Most of their meat is pretty similar, but there are subtle differences.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              I picked red snapper for my example specifically because it was one of the fish most often substituted for. It was actually reading an article many years ago that centered on red snapper that first made me aware of fish fraud. Though typically a restaurant won't be so bold and still claim it's red snapper. They call it "bay snapper", or "gulf snapper" or "pacific red snapper" or, the worst of all in my opinion, just plain "snapper."

              Ah, here's the article I read many years ago that opened my eyes to the w

        • The proper connoisseurs should, though I'm sure there are many poseurs.

        • Re:Big Surprise (Score:4, Interesting)

          by ThousandStars ( 556222 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @05:40PM (#24712373) Homepage
          Freakonomics just had a post [] about wine drinkers and taste: "Their conclusion: fancy people with lots of training can tell cheap wine from expensive wine, but regular people cannot." Interesting stuff.

          I used the same article as a component of a short essay on artistic taste [].

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Dare nMc ( 468959 )

          Penn and Teller "Bullshit" did explore that they could make a $5 meal with a $3 bottle of wine fool all but a very few food critiques with a great presentation at a classy restaurant.

          Though the industry should want some policing. IE I bought "good" sushi, and liked it, but not more than a good steak. So I don't buy sushi. Perhaps I just got screwed, and buying the right stuff would make me a sushi lover.

    • by e2d2 ( 115622 )

      Not me. Here in Florida, there was a huge "scandal" over Tilapia being passed off as Grouper and the state actually enforcing "truth in labeling" laws for such things, handing out fines to offenders. It's why a Grouper sandwich costs so much here, Grouper is in shorter supply and they used to simply label Tilapia as Grouper.

    • In a state well-known for its walleye, a local television station ran an investigative report a couple of years ago on restaurants that proclaimed to serve walleye in various forms...and found a number of them trying to pass off zander as walleye (usually by trying to call it "European walleye"). A number of them were shamed into switching to the genuine article.
  • by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <> on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:54PM (#24710063) Homepage Journal

    Confucius say "Man who check fish too closely never get bone in freelay."

  • Another article (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thepacketmaster ( 574632 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:03PM (#24710195) Homepage Journal
    This was also covered in an article [] in the Toronto Star.
  • seems to be common (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fermion ( 181285 )
    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 subb
    • by Bloater ( 12932 )

      "the diner would be denied the experience of dining just because ingredients are not available. "

      You mean if a restaurant hasn't got any white tuna in I can't go and buy a steak?"

      • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

        You mean if a restaurant hasn't got any white tuna in I can't go and buy a steak?

        Not if they only have duck.

        Colonel Hall: [reading new menu] Duck with orange; duck with cherries; duck surprise.
        Mrs. Hall: What's duck surprise?
        Basil Fawlty: Er... that's duck without oranges or cherries.
        Colonel Hall: I mean is this all there is: duck?
        Basil Fawlty: Yes... done of course in three extremely different ways.
        Colonel Hall: And what do you do if you don't like duck?
        Basil Fawlty: Well, if you don't like duck... you're rather stuck.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by citylivin ( 1250770 )

      "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 cour

      • 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.

        • If it was Italian food yes, greek food maybe, but do you think a New Yorker has no rights bragging about Pizza? Much of the American version of Sushi originated in California, and yes the American Sushi bar are about as Japanese as Pizza is Italian.

          • American Sushi bar are about as Japanese as Pizza is Italian

            I think you're going to the wrong sushi bars, then.

        • It's charming how a nation of 300 million or so is divided perfectly in twain on the issue of restaruant quality due to their proximity to coastlines.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            Nah, the best food is in Houston, better than "either coast".

            • by photon317 ( 208409 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @06:06PM (#24712719)

              I agree. I've traveled all over the US (and abroad), and on average, Houston has more restaurants with better quality food (and a wider variety of cuisines) than just about anywhere in the US. If you love eating out, Houston is the place to live really.

              That being said, while there are a number of *great* sushi places in Houston with some really creative chefs making great preparations, the quality of the actual fish meat itself is noticeably superior in the SF Bay Area.

      • I agree - quite often I'd bet it's not that people can't tell a difference, it's just that people generally don't open their mouths.

        I personally love sushi. I generally eat "real" sushi once per week (I'll stop off for a california or spider roll at the little local Japanese restaurant more often, but that's not a "real" sushi place IMHO). Now, in my general area I've been to around 7 or 8 various sushi bars. All but 2 were of unacceptable quality - the unacceptable ones ranged from just below par, to re

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:05PM (#24710233)

    Kuni: Okay, Weaver, listen carefully. You can hold on to your red snapper...

    Kuni: ...or you can go for what's in the box that Hiro-San is bringing down the aisle right now! What's it gonna be?

    Phyllis Weaver: I'll take the box. The box!

    Kuni: You took the box? Let's see what's in the box!

    Kuni: Nothing! Absolutely nothing! STUPID! You're so STU-PIIIIIIIIIIID!

  • by thewiz ( 24994 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:06PM (#24710251)

    Roe supposedly from flying fish was actually from smelt.

    Of course, the roe from flying fish are from smelt; they're the ones that are being dive-bombed!

    Seven of nine samples...

    Leave it to the Slashdot crowd to put a Star Trek reference in a story about seafood.

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:16PM (#24710367) Journal
    If NY works the same as holland then this guy is going to be very busy, the one place whose fish passed all tests?

    In holland a newspaper called AD has a feature where they test fries, patat.

    The ones that win proudly display the article and do massive business because of it. With so many bad fast food places being tested as being the best is an excellent piece of advertising.

    If you were going to buy fish/sushi and you just read this article, where would you go?

  • Tobiko vs. Masago (Score:4, Informative)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:19PM (#24710423) Journal

    FTA: Roe supposedly from flying fish was actually from smelt.

    Cheaper sushi bars do this all the time, and you don't need DNA sequencing to spot the difference. Tobiko (flying fish roe) eggs are larger than smelt eggs, and they're a clear orange color.


  • Re: (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuincyFree ( 147705 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:21PM (#24710457)

    Steve Palumbi did this back in the mid-90's for whale and dolphin products being sold in commercial markets in Korea and Japan (Baker and Palumbi 1994 Science 265: 1538; Baker et al. 1995 Molecular Ecology 5:671). Essentially they went around the fish stalls taking samples and amplifying and sequencing them in their hotel room. From the latter article abstract:

    This 'spot check' revealed a surprising variety of species for sale, including minke, fin and humpback whales and one or two species of dolphins sold as 'kujira' or whale. In the Korean survey, DNA amplifications were conducted by two of us (C.S.B. and F.C.) working with independent equipment and reagents. The two sets of DNA amplifications were returned to our respective laboratories and sequenced independently for cross-validation. Among the total of 17 species-specific sequences we found a dolphin, a beaked whale, 13 Northern Hemisphere minke whales (representing at least seven distinct individuals) and two whales which are closely related to the recognized sei and Bryde's whales but could not be identified as either using available type sequences. We suggest that these two specimens represent a currently unrecognized species or subspecies of Bryde's whale, possibly the so-called 'small-form' reported from the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific.

    Until these guys went out and actually did the sequencing, no one knew for sure how much illegal whaling activity was going on.

  • half a pun (Score:3, Funny)

    by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:34PM (#24710643)

    I want to do some sort of pun on Roe v. something but I can't think of anything fishy that rhymes with Wade.

    Eh, the best one was from Katrina.

    "What does Bush think about Roe vs. Wade?"

    "He doesn't care how they get out of New Orleans."

  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:44PM (#24710787)

    Since this relies on segments of mitochondrial DNA(not the nucleus's DNA), it fails in species with endosymbiotic bacteria, such as many arthropods and the Wolbachia bacteria. So it's unlikely this will work on, say, crab or lobster.

    Wolbachia [] is an awesome bacteria, as it can cause those infected with it to be unable to breed with those not infected, which could possibly induce the divergence of species. Some species have been infected with it so long, generationally, that they go sterile if you give them antibiotics.

  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Translation Error ( 1176675 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:55PM (#24710995)
    Now they're performing deep packet inspection on our sushi. If we eat the wrong kind of fish, do we get throttled?
    • Throttled? No, I'm pretty sure my wife would shoot me if I started eating the wrong fish.

      • Throttled? No, I'm pretty sure my wife would shoot me if I started eating the wrong fish.

        Or if you tried cooking it and then dousing is in soy sauce, I would imagine...

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Overzeetop ( 214511 )

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

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            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?

  • by Kneo24 ( 688412 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @04:47PM (#24711663)

    This is a common practice in the food industry. While there might be a few cases of people really not realize what they've bought for their consumers is the wrong stuff, by far and large, especially in the restaurant biz, they know it's not what they've claimed it to be.

    Why do this do this? Profits of course! Charge $18 for a mahi meal and serve them cod or tilapia instead. The average persons taste buds aren't refined enough to know the difference.

    I've been kindly asked to leave sushi places before when my "fresh super white tuna from Korea" tasted a lot like farm raised cod, which I rudely pointed out when the waitress asked me if "everything was ok". At least I got a somewhat free meal out of it!

    And now that I think about it, all of the Sushi places I've been too, there's only been one or two places that actually served what they advertised. Hands down, best tasting sushi I will ever have.

    Ultimately, I don't think this will change anything on the restaurant side. Grocery store side? Maybe. When you can make large profits from misrepresenting what you're selling and get away with it, the barcoding won't stop it. All it will do is help the honest business stay honest.

  • There was always something fishy about those sushi restaurants!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:26PM (#24714143)

    I work as a fish wholesaler. We deal mostly with restaurants but we do a few retail establishments too.
    The fish business is surprisingly crooked. With the Russian mafia controlling the caviar trade and various fly by night operations selling foul product that has been color treated to look new.Having a competent chef is vary important when dealing with fish quality. Labeling is a constant problem in the fishing industry even with the COOL act. Domestic red snapper is the worst of the lot when it comes to company's labeling poorly. Mainly because on a wholesale level the fish sells for 13.95-14.95 per pound fillet (regional price only), while tilapia is often sold at 6.95-7.95 per pound fillet. Other things that get sold as red snapper is red rock, corvina, lane snapper, ling snapper. (although ling is often not cheaper) It is so bad that the USDC stepped in and only 1 genus of fish can be sold as red snapper, 2 in California. The trick to buying red snapper is to only buy it skin on, preferably whole. If it is skin off fillet pass because it's almost impossible to identify then. Selling tilapia as tuna is retarded those two fish do not even taste similar although if the fish is drenched in soy sauce and wasabi it is difficult to tell even the widest of gaps in fish taste.

    Also since this is going to come up at one point. Scallops that are marked sea scallops or processed scallops ARE NOT skate or shark. These scallops are treated with tripolyphosphate so they soak up water. Dry pack scallops are not treated so they are a better quality scallop. It is very difficult to cut skate in such a way on an industrial level to make it look like a scallop especially when the yield from it would cut into profit and most chefs can tell the difference.

    And while I'm at it:
    Amberjack is not mahi
    Ahi meens tuna or yellowfin tuna. Saying ahi tuna is silly
    Ono and wahoo are the same god damn fish just buy the cheaper wahoo
    Langostino is from a squat lobster which isn't really a lobster but it still tastes good.

  • DNA Barcoding (Score:3, Informative)

    by jannesha ( 441851 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @11:04PM (#24715179)

    Actually, this work was based on a really cool research project - to catalog all the species on the planet via a short, standardized region of their DNA [].

    There's an online database, and much of the data is publicly available []. (follow the "Published Projects" link to log in anonymously).

    They also provide a taxonomy browser [] which is a bit more fun to play with (there are pictures).

    Fish in fish markets is but the tip of the iceberg: customs officials can use this to halt the import/export of endangered and/or invasive species, it can lead to the discovery of new species, and help us to quantify biodiversity on the planet (and how quickly we're fscking it away)....


I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel