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August 22, 2008

Your Tuna — er, Tilapia — is Served

Now here’s an eye-opener for you. Two sushi-loving high school girls in New York took on a freelance science project to check 60 samples of seafood using a simplified genetic fingerprinting (or “barcoding”) technique to see whether their fish was correctly labeled. The result? Two of the 4 restaurants and 6 of the 10 grocery stores sold mislabeled fish. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but still, yikes!How was it done? The girls sent their samples off to the University of Guelph in Ontario, to the Barcode of Life Database project (more specifically the Fish Barcode of Life, or the Fish BOL). A scientist compared the teenagers’ samples with the global library of 30,562 bar codes representing nearly 5,500 fish species.I can hear high school science teachers rejoicing. “Look what you can do!” they’ll cry to their students. And they are right; more of us ought to take initiative to do this sort of thing — not necessarily to get published in a journal or magazine, but for the sake of knowing where our food comes from. Oh, and what our food even IS. There’s a big difference between red snapper and endangered Acadian redfish, after all.Thanks to Oceana’s chief scientist Mike Hirshfield for the heads up on this — as he observes, “although this story has been written before, as we all know nothing really happens until it appears in the NY Times.” And now that the NYT reported it, perhaps it will wake up more sushi-eaters and purveyors to the fact that they should pay attention and ask more questions about what’s coming out of the water, off the trucks and onto their plates. [Image via]