Tamper-proof traceability lies with DNA

Published on
January 17, 2010

Being able to trace the constituents of a food product back to the origin is an essential requirement of today’s food-processing industry. Major retailers and foodservice operators want to be able pinpoint where problems in the supply chain exist if consumers complain.

Providing fool-proof traceability for seafood is fraught with problems. Supplies come from waters literally all over the world, and documentation and recording methods can be suspect at best.

However, a Malaysian tilapia producer has the answer, at least for farmed fish — DNA profiling. By taking a minute sample from a fillet of what is now being called “trapia” — traceable tilapia — the parents of this fish, which may be living in tanks or ponds on the other side of the world, can be easily identified by a North American distributor.

Trapia is one of two stocks of farmed fish trialing the Genopass System, which uses DNA profiling to verify the origin of fish with “absolute certainty.” Once determined, the DNA profile of the sampled fish fillet can be traced back through the supply chain to the parent panel, even at the stage of consumption. The DNA profile does not alter unless the fish is cooked; freezing and filleting do not harm DNA.

The DNA profile of the parent panel of a Genopass-accredited farm is unique and is not shared by any other offspring, even those of the same species from the same hatchery, according to Morten Høyum, president and CEO of GenoMar, the Norwegian company that developed Genopass.

“Through the Genopass System, we can verify whether a particular fish fillet comes from GenoMar’s farm by simply taking a tissue sample from any part of the fish and genotyping this,” said Høyum. “A few samples per container would be enough to verify if the label tells the true story. Conventional documentation traceability methods are vulnerable to tampering. Sometimes the label does not even correctly describe the species inside, not to mention the country of ‘real’ origin.”

A lot of time and money has been spent developing the Genopass System. GenoMar, which started out as a genetics research company in 1996, has been selectively breeding tilapia for more than 10 years. However, this work is now bearing fruit. Trapia being produced by Genomar’s Malaysian subsidiary, Trapia Malaysia Sdn Bhd, is now being sold by distributors in North America and will soon be available in Europe.

Through Trapia Malaysia Sdn Bhd, GenoMar has obtained a permit to produce up to 20,000 metric tons of tilapia annually in phase one of its production program, and there are plans to eventually increase production to 40,000 metric tons per year. After that, the sky is the limit, as further sites can be used for production.

It is too early to tell whether the tamper-proof traceability provided by the Genopass System is attracting the interest of retailers and foodservice operators in the United States, but it certainly should. Anything that can guarantee the source of raw material with absolute certainty has to be welcomed with open arms in this age of food-safety scares and litigation, where consumers will sue suppliers at the drop of a hat.

And there is no extra expense involved. Trapia is being sold at the same price as other non-Chinese tilapia. What could be better that that?

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