Food fraud is so rampant, I wonder if we ever really get the food as advertised in stores.
Let’s take a look back to stories I have covered since 2006, when this article appeared in London’s Independent –
“Kate Moss, Gwyneth Paltrow, Colin Firth, Kylie Minogue, Jeremy Paxman and U2 are just a few of the glitzy guests the restaurant lists on its website.
As part of its commitment to fine dining, Julie’s proclaims its use of organic food, which it says keeps the earth healthy and minimises pesticide residues.
But what it fails to mention is that guests who ordered organic dishes last winter were routinely cheated by the restaurant, which bought cheap meat and pocketed the change.
…But there was no escape for the restaurant when inspectors from Kensington and Chelsea council called for a routine inspection on 21 November last year.
They saw that the menu had organic marinated roast chicken, sausages, and spice-crusted rack of lamb and decided to check the kitchens. They found no trace of anything organic on delivery notes. The suppliers were traced and confirmed they had not supplied organic meat to the restaurant for the 52 days before the inspection.
Between 1 October and 21 November 2005, the council estimated the restaurant had saved £4,186 on chicken alone.”
In July 2009, Quarrygirl.com, a blog devoted to “all things vegan, lots of things beer, and some things los angeles” finished an undercover investigation of vegan restaurants in Los Angeles. Her question: are they really serving vegan food? The answer was, in many cases, no.
They went to 17 “vegan” restaurants, ordered takeout food, and took the samples to be tested. Great care was taken to insure against contamination. When the results were in, seven of the restaurants tested positive for “contamination”.
Also in 2009, an article in the Washington Post criticized the USDA “National Organic Program”,
In the end, the USDA has lax oversight into the entire organic certification program, to the point where the green label doesn’t really mean much anymore. Scary for those who like to think they are eating organic.
The USDA created the National Organic Program in 2002 to implement the law. By then, major food companies had bought up most small, independent organic companies. Kraft Foods, for example, owns Boca Foods. Kellogg owns Morningstar Farms, and Coca-Cola owns 40 percent of Honest Tea, maker of the organic beverage favored by President Obama.
That corporate firepower has added to pressure on the government to expand the definition of what is organic, in part because processed foods offered by big industry often require ingredients, additives or processing agents that either do not exist in organic form or are not available in large enough quantities for mass production.
Later that summer, I pointed out that local Safeway stores were claiming California produce was “local”.
In 2010, I covered this article about food fraud –
Two high school students armed with DNA barcoding tech uncovered quite a few food shenanigans in New York City markets. Examples include expensive “sheep’s milk cheese” made from cow milk, “venison” dog treats made from beef, and “sturgeon caviar” that was actually Mississippi paddlefish.
The findings of consumer fraud in 16 percent of sampled products emerged from a “DNA House” project by Brenda Tan and Matt Cost, both 12th grade students at the Trinity School in New York City. Their work echoes the 2008 “sushi-gate” discoveries of two other Trinity students, which revealed mislabeled fish in Manhattan restaurants and markets.
Apparently, we aren’t learning any lessons. This week, from MSNBC – (link no longer good)
Scientists aiming their gene sequencers at commercial seafood are discovering rampant labeling fraud in supermarket coolers and restaurant tables: cheap fish is often substituted for expensive fillets, and overfished species are passed off as fish whose numbers are plentiful.
Yellowtail stands in for mahi-mahi. Nile perch is labeled as shark, and tilapia may be the Meryl Streep of seafood, capable of playing almost any role.
Recent studies by researchers in North America and Europe harnessing the new techniques have consistently found that 20 to 25 percent of the seafood products they check are fraudulently identified, fish geneticists say.
Labeling regulation means little if the “grouper” is really catfish or if gulf shrimp were spawned on a farm in Thailand.
Greg Dennis says
I am an avid fisherman and can definitely tell the difference between farm raised salmon and the fish I catch in the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia and its tributaries. And I know my way around steelhead as well, although it is much more difficult to tell the difference between “wild caught” (hatchery) and farmed steelhead. But when it comes to non-salmonoids and bottom fish, I am clueless and rely 100% on the honesty of the vendor and restaurant. I was served “Monkfish” recently in a very high dollar Portland restaurant which I swear was way too thin, too flakey and too “fishy” to be real Monkfish, but I ate it and paid and left. The MSNBC article is depressing because you can’t know whether fraud is at the level of the fisherman, the dockside buyer, the fish broker, the local supplier, or the restaurant operator. All it takes is one crook. Maybe they will make a fish DNA verification app for my iPhone.
Interesting and not surprising. I’ve had ‘fresh’ fish that obviously had been frozen as well as fish that obviously was ‘mislabeled’.
Don’t mind paying the price, just mind the bait and switch.