Dutch firm harnesses DNA, blockchain for sturgeon traceability solution

Published on
May 21, 2021

A Dutch firm is harnessing blockchain and DNA to disable what it has identified as a burgeoning illicit trade in wild sturgeon passed off as farmed product.

Geneusbiotech, which describes itself as a “genomics specialist company,” has introduced a traceability solution for sturgeon and caviar sold in Europe in a three-year collaboration with the Berlin Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB). The Amsterdam, the Netherlands-based company develops solutions for the food, luxury goods, and pharma sectors.

“We’ve been able to accelerate the improvement of the current labeling and traceability systems by the means of DNA sampling and blockchain technology,” Geneusbiotech CEO Henri Kunz told SeafoodSource.

Consumers will be able to scan a QR code to trace products covered by Geneusbiotech technology, Kunz said.

“For every commercially-relevant sturgeon species, we have identified a unique genomic pattern that ensures unequivocal matching of the mother-fish with its caviar. Our assay [test] can identify the parental origin down to the level of a single caviar egg. We have coupled this DNA-based identifier with conventional next-generation passive transponder technology that is applied to the packaging of the product, thereby creating an unfalsifiable and fully traceable product supply chain,” Kunz said. “We completely ensure the secure storage of genomics data and related by-products through off grid primary and synthetic DNA sample storages, which can’t be easily accessed or manipulated or hacked.”

Consultations with industry and law enforcement and conservationists led Kunz to conclude that labeling requirement under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have not been implemented for the domestic trade in key markets, with the exception of the European Union. Kunz said China, Japan, and Russia, as well as the United States, have not revised relevant national legislation and “CITES labels are thus not mandatory for domestic trade, undermining the purpose of the CITES labeling system to ensure a traceable, and thus legal, trade.”

Other caviar experts, including Cyrus Tabrizi, the director of London, U.K.-based caviar house Caspian Monarque, have criticized weaknesses in the implementation of the CITES agreement, calling it a “toothless tiger.” Others, including Nasser Oktaei, formerly an executive at Shilat Trading Corp. and A.S.S.H, both state-owned Iranian entities dealing in caviar, took issue with Tabrizi’s complaint.

“Today, all the caviar sold and bought worldwide [is derived from] farmed products and have nothing to do with natural sources of sturgeon, the protection of which was and is the main objective of CITES convention,” he told SeafoodSource. “The main concern of CITES now should be [ensuring] no product of wild sturgeon come to the caviar market, not supervising on trade of farmed caviar.”

According to Geneusbiotech’s Kunz, no export quotas for meat or caviar from wild-caught sturgeon have been communicated to the CITES secretariat by states since March 2011.

“Hence, no trade in wild stocks from shared stocks like the Caspian Sea or the Azov Sea can be considered legal,” Kunz said.

A recent report by TRAFFIC, a wildlife protection-focused non-governmental organization, suggests wild-sourced caviar is being trafficked as farmed product, with CITES paperwork being forged or procured corruptly in other cases, Kunz said. A recent survey of the Lower Danube region showed trade of wild-sourced caviar in both Bulgaria and Romania, both E.U. members.

Separately, Geneusbiotech is developing solutions for “consumer food security, animal conservation and the direct correlation of product mislabeling with poaching of endangered species,” Kunz said.

Photo courtesy of ArtemSh/Shutterstock

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