FISH AND chip shops, restaurants and supermarkets are selling cod and haddock that are actually cheaper substitutes, according to new research.
The BBC has reported details of a new study showing that 7% of cod and haddock – two of the most popular fish in the UK – is actually pollock or Vietnamese pangasius, which is farmed in estuaries in South-East Asia.
Previous research has also shown that the level of mis-labelling suggests it is not accidental.
The research comes at a time when the UK’s food supply chain is under close scrutiny following the horse meat scandal.
Last year, researchers in Ireland found that 28% of the cod tested in Ireland was not cod. Some 88.6% of all mis-labelled cod products identified from both Ireland and the UK were smoked, breaded or battered, because this can conceal the appearance, smell and the taste of a fish fillet, researchers said.
Mis-labelling of fish is also common in other parts of the world. In the US, the lobbying group Oceania found that one third of 1,215 samples of fish tested nationwide was mis-labelled.
One of its scientists, Kimberly Warner, told the BBC that mis-labelling of fish and seafood mattered not only because of the deception of consumers, but also because threatened fish, in overfished parts of the ocean, could be sold as unthreatened, abundant varieties.
"If you are going to pay for a wild seafood product, and you want to choose that seafood carefully for your health or for conservation concerns, you will not have that opportunity if you are just being served anything which the industry wants to serve up to you," she said.
Mark Drummond, vice-president of the National Federation of Fish Friers, the trade association for Britain's fish-and-chip shops, said: "I think it would help everyone if every fish consignment had a label saying exactly what it was. The pubs or café or restaurant could pass that information on to their customers."
EU regulations prohibit the mixture of different fish species in one consumer product sold. However, according to Eurofins, which carries out DNA testing for the fish industry, the high prices of certain fish species have often resulted in cheaper species being mixed in, somewhere along the supply chain.
It also warned that mis-labelled fish and seafood may in some cases also present health risks as they are sometimes species-specific. “Food-borne illnesses and allergic reactions are some of the possible health risks especially for sensitive groups,” said a spokesman.