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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to pull close to 100 seafood samples from warehouses and distribution centers nationwide over the next few months, putting into practice a DNA-testing pilot program intended to minimize species substitution, mislabeling and other forms of seafood fraud, the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) reported in an e-mail alert on Thursday.

According to the FDA Office of Regulatory Science, nine labs are now set up to sequence seafood samples and determine if they are labeled accurately. This pilot program, which involves creating a DNA seafood library at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, has been in the works for months.

“This is the type of effort we’ve wanted to see for a long time,” said Lisa Weddig, secretary of the Better Seafood Board (BSB). “When FDA is out there testing and enforcing the law, it makes fraud a lot harder to perpetrate. Whether it’s on a menu or bill of sale seafood needs be labeled properly, and operations that don’t take that seriously should be on notice; a new commitment and a new database are in the market now.

“Recommitted regulators armed with DNA testing will be able to cut through the finger pointing and buck passing and hopefully have an impact on the type of fraud we’ve heard so much about in the past few weeks,” added Weddig.

All NFI members are also BSB members.

There’s been a lot of media attention on seafood fraud in the past two weeks thanks to investigations, including ones by the Boston Globe, Oceana and Consumer Reports, in which dozens of seafood samples were collected from local restaurants and supermarkets and a significant percentage of the samples were found to be mislabeled. 

Just this week, U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and Edward Markey, both of Massachusetts, called on the Federal Trade Commission to step up its involvement in protecting consumers from seafood fraud.


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