All set to splurge on a fillet of red snapper - at about $7.95 a
pound - for a midsummer meal?
You might want to take a DNA kit to the fish counter, along with
the Food and Drug Administration's definition of Lutjanus
campechanus, in case the seller wants to argue.
It could well be a fake.
A study released Thursday by the University of North Carolina
found that more than 75 percent of store-labeled red snapper it
tested from nine unnamed retailers in eight states bore the genetic
makeup of other fish.
Some were close relatives, says Peter Marko, the assistant
professor of marine sciences whose students made the accidental
discovery during a DNA-sequencing project.
But in terms of culinary quality and cost, the differences
between red snapper and the most frequent market substitutes are
"The best snapper out there is genuine red snapper," says Bob
Brodeur, chef at the Conch House Marina Resort in St. Augustine,
Fla., and buyer of about $1 million a year in fish.
The alternatives - including similar fish commonly known as
sheephead, porgies, and grunts - can have market values of less than
half that of red snapper. Until he sets them straight, Mr. Brodeur
says, wholesalers he encounters often try to pass off such fish as
their pricier cousin.
Some industry observers call the UNC study the latest window on
the deep and long-running problem of seafood mislabeling.
Experts differ on where in the supply chain the mislabeling most
often occurs, and how often it may simply be the inadvertent result
of clumsy shorthanding. But many say the economic incentive for
fraud by big-volume sellers is clear.
"The profits in mislabeling fish can equal or exceed [those of]
drug dealing," says Tim Duffy, a consumer advocate in Covina, Calif.
Enforcement is lax, Mr. Duffy adds, even though labels can be
He points to the alleged marketing of pieces of the "wings" of
skate - a fish that resembles a small manta ray - as scallops. And
Duffy says he recently found a packet of Atlantic cod labeled
"product of China."
"I wasn't great in geography," he says, "but I don't think the
Atlantic Ocean goes to China."
On that front, new country-of-origin labels could help - a
little. The Department of Agriculture has delayed until 2006
implementation of such labels for beef, pork, and lamb, says a USDA
spokeswoman. But their seafood program will take effect at the end
of September. …