Seafood Fraud Solution Underway

A major milestone in the development of a fast, cost-effective identification of edible fish and fish products to prevent species substitution and fraud is the goal behind a major project cleared for funding by the Seafood Industry Research Fund (SIRF).

The research project, which will be led by Dr. J. Aquiles Sanchez, Ph.D., of the Department of Biology at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., seeks to develop a rapid means of seafood species identification using closed-tube DNA bar coding. The project could benefit seafood companies, distributors, retailers, restaurants and consumers by providing a tool for protecting product from mislabeling and species substitution.  

Compared with difficult and expensive FDA DNA testing, the closed-DNA system represents a convenient alternative that can be used with both laboratory equipment and, importantly, hand-held devices. 

“The FDA has a strong interest in any new technologies and techniques that could potentially decrease cost and time of analysis, while increasing throughput and ease of use,” said Jonathan Deeds, Ph.D., of the FDA Office of Regulatory Science. “Methods with the potential to be field deployable are of particular interest. For public health, it is vital that both domestic and imported seafood be safe, wholesome and properly labeled.” 

The research would compile a reference database of DNA "barcodes" for species at high risk of mislabeling or substitution. Suppliers, distributors and retailers could use the method of authentication to maintain the quality of their brand and retain consumer trust.

Jamie Marshall, chairman of industry watchdog group The Better Seafood Board (BSB), in McLean, Va., observed that the SIRF DNA project is a potentially powerful tool in combating seafood fraud. 

“Industries thrive or perish on their reputations,” Marshall said. “The seafood business needs more effective resources in defending itself against the bad actors who threaten the opinions and goodwill of its consumers. I look forward to following the study and learning about the practical applications it may have for product quality and authentication.”

Established in 1964, McLean-based SIRF funds research grants to colleges, universities and other institutions for research related to the seafood industry and the consumers of its products. According to SIRF Chairman Russ Mentzer, the newly approved study is squarely aligned with the organization’s pragmatic approach to seafood research.

“The FDA’s interest in this technology is beneficial to the seafood community,” said Mentzer. “This rigorous protocol will help establish a tested standard useable throughout the seafood supply chain, a business-based solution made possible by our excellent donor base and scientist partners.” 

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