One job of the US Food and Drug Administration is to ensure that all imported seafood is safe to eat and properly labelled. Accurate seafood labels are necessary for the safety of all individuals who consume such products.  In 2007, toxic pufferfish were illegally imported into the United States and bypassed customary US inspection because it was mislabeled as “monkfish”.  Two individuals became seriously ill after ingesting the tetrodotoxin from the pufferfish they were cooking at home.

Not only is the mislabeling of fish considered a violation of Federal law, but it can also pose a serious public health risk. Simple fish inspections can avert most situations of this nature from materializing, especially if those who inspect the fish are able to identify fish species through taxonomic means. Who is to say that all inspectors are equipped to identify every imported fish species?  And even if there are expert fish taxonomists working for the FDA,  one additional problem is that some imported fish are processed and may not be able to be identified in this way.

In response to this dilemma, the FDA, in collaboration with the “Barcode of Life” initiative, has barcoded 172 commericial fish species to help recognize species that are difficult to identify through more traditional means. This new method of identifying species is also particularly useful for fish samples whose DNA is degraded.  In some cases, fish can be identified from as small a DNA region as 100-200 base-pairs in length.

This has many implications for not only imported foods, but for locally grown foods as well.   State and local regulators can adopt similar measures to barcode fish in detecting food fraud. Restaurants can test the quality of the fish they buy from sellers using this new technology. And customers of restaurants can rest assured that the caviar they are ordering from the menu is not a cheap substitute.


For more information go to: