Stephanie Henkel, Global Animal

Globally, consumers have been deceived and can no longer trust labels and menus to tell them what is in their food.

Findus Beef Lasagne was found to contain horse meat. Photo Credit: Andrew Yates, AFP/ Getty Images
Findus Beef Lasagne was found to contain horse meat. Photo Credit: Andrew Yates, AFP/ Getty Images

Earlier this year, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland conducted a study analyzing beef products and discovered 10 out of 27 of the tested products contained horse DNA, while 23 contained pig DNA. One of the hamburger patties tested was from Tesco, Britain’s largest grocery retailer. A staggering 29 percent of the Tesco burger consisted of horse meat.

Soon after, Swedish food producer Findus recalled its frozen beef lasagna from British stores as a precautionary measure after its supplier expressed concern. Ultimately, Britain’s Food Standards Agency concluded that the Findus lasagna contained more than 60 percent horse meat.

These cases created a domino effect that resulted in further exposure of “beef,” including retailer Aldi’s frozen beef lasagna and spaghetti Bolognese. Both Aldi dishes contained between 30 and one hundred percent horse meat.

The United States watched with a fixed interest as this scandal unfolded. While Americans wondered how this was possible, an Oceana study revealed a similar fraud with seafood happening in the U.S.

Oceana is a worldwide organization focused on ocean conservation. From 2010 to 2012, Oceana organized and executed one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world. They collected 1,215 seafood samples from 674 retailers in 21 states to verify if the products were honestly labeled. The study concluded that 33 percent of the samples were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

DNA testing determined that many seafood products from the sample were not actually what appeared on the label. From the study, snapper was mislabeled 87 percent of the time, while tuna was mislabeled 59 percent of the time. Halibut, cod, grouper, and Chilean sea bass also had high mislabeling rates- between 19 and 38 percent.

A sample of what you may be eating. Photo Credit: Jacquet and Pauly 2008, Lowenstein et al. 2009, Wong and Hanner 2008, Miller and Mariani 2010, CBC News
A sample of what you may be eating. Photo Credit: Jacquet and Pauly 2008, Lowenstein et al. 2009, Wong and Hanner 2008, Miller and Mariani 2010, CBC News

Overall, 44 percent of all the retailers from the investigation sold mislabeled fish. This included grocery stores, restaurants, and even sushi venues.

The types of mislabeling varied considerably. Farm fish were being sold as wild. Vulnerable species were being sold as sustainable. Health advisories were not being specified, and fish were being sold under the incorrect species name.

These practices in Europe, the U.S., and worldwide create a consumer health risk and a risk to the animal population. The general public, in particularly children and the elderly, may be subjected to consuming mislabeled products and may experience mild to severe allergic reactions. Furthermore, vulnerable species, like many fish populations, may suffer from an accelerated dwindling of numbers.

The mislabeling fiasco has created more consumer distrust in food purveyors and has harmed honest meat and seafood distributors. It is imperative that the food supply chain become more transparent and traceable. In addition, businesses need to practice a little more compassion toward their consumers and the environment with less focus on the bottom line.

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