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Fishy business: Fighting fish and seafood fraud with digital traceability systems



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Have you ever wondered where that fish filet on your plate really came from? Are you absolutely certain that the white tuna or butterfish in your sushi isn’t really escolar? Is your imported shrimp filled with unhealthy antibiotics and chemicals?

Without clear, legal labeling and end-to-end traceability of the fish and seafood you eat, you may never know.

According to a 2018 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the fish and seafood industry is one of the most vulnerable to food fraud. The report also explained that detecting food fraud in the fisheries and aquaculture sector is extremely complex for a variety of reasons:

• The sheer number of fraudulent practices in the industry, including species substitution, mislabeling of fish to conceal geographic origin or illegally harvested species, counterfeit products, undeclared or illegal use of food additives, etc.
• Increasingly widespread development of processed fish products and pre-prepared fish meals
• Legislation in various countries that, according to many advocacy groups, don’t go far enough
• Current traceability systems rely on a paper trail that can vary from country to country—and may not ensure that the right information and transparency permeate the entire supply chain.

Oceana, a non-profit international organization looking to protect and restore the world’s oceans, compiled more than 200 studies on seafood and fish fraud in 55 countries, mapping out the cases of fraud worldwide. And during an investigation into food fraud carried out across more than 60 countries by INTERPOL and Europol, fish and seafood were identified as the third-highest risk category of foods with the potential for fraud.

In the United States and Canada, the statistics are far from reassuring as well. Oceana issued a report that showed that in the U.S., more than 90% of fish and seafood that is consumed is imported—but only 1% is inspected for fraud. The nationwide study demonstrated that fish and seafood can be mislabeled up to 87% of the time. In Canada, fish and seafood have been found to be mislabeled up to 40% of the time.

To combat seafood and fish fraud, governments are creating new legislation to tighten laws and introduce new means to better prevent fraud at the outset and more quickly remove unsafe food from the market.

For example, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recently introduced amendments to the Health of Animals Regulations, Part XV that will include mandatory animal identification and traceability requirements for animal species, including fish and seafood.

This new legislation, which comes into effect on January 15, 2019, will mean that fishery and seafood businesses that import or prepare food to be consumed will have to have licenses and implement preventive controls, including record keeping, to minimize any risks to food safety. Furthermore, all imported food will be subject to the same strict safety controls as food made in Canada. Audits will be conducted by inspectors and companies will face harsh fines if not compliant.

While laws like the ones developed in Canada are a step in the right direction, the UN’s FAO suggests aquaculture industry should go a step further by requiring companies to implement end-to-end traceability systems that can track all fish and seafood from boat to plate, providing supply chain stakeholders and consumers with critical and accurate information about fish and seafood species, where they were caught and processed, what methods were used, and with which suppliers. With complete visibility of the entire supply chain, the fish and seafood sector can eliminate mislabeling, mitigate food fraud, and protect people’s health and wallets.

The FAO says that end-to-end traceability is critical to stopping fish and seafood fraud—and points to the European Union and United States as examples of jurisdictions making concerted efforts to leverage the tremendous potential of full-chain traceability systems and stringent labeling guidelines to thwart fraud from a significant portion of both domestically sourced and imported fish and seafood.

Traceability solutions, such as those developed by OPTEL, are readily accessible today and can be the secret weapon for fish and seafood companies around the world to integrate end-to-end traceability into existing supply chains and meet international legislation.

OPTEL, a global leader in traceability, is the only developer on the market to guarantee item-level traceability, which opens up more opportunities than ever before to provide the valuable information distribution and retail partners—as well as customers—require to choose food brands.