Faster DNA testing could aid in seafood fraud, mislabeling in U.S. restaurants

Published on
February 12, 2015

Although two new DNA tests to combat seafood fraud have been introduced in the U.S., they won’t be available commercially to test several different species for quite awhile.

PureMolecular LLC in Tampa, Fla., recently launched a beta version of its hand-held QuadPyre RT-NASBA genetic amplification assay, units that will sell for an estimated USD 2,000 each. The advantage to this type of system is that retailers, wholesalers, restaurants and others can test seafood themselves and receive results within 45 minutes. Typically, DNA tests are sent to a lab, and the results are not available for two days to a week.

Also, late last year, Baltimore, Md.-based InstantLabs rolled out its InstantID Atlantic Blue Crab DNA Test, which produces DNA results in around two hours. InstantLabs uses a portable Hunter Real-Time PCR Instrument, so distributors, government agencies, supermarkets and others can test seafood DNA at the “point of need,” Steven Guterman, CEO of InstantLabs, told SeafoodSource at the time.
There is a high demand from government and private entities in the U.S. for faster testing. The Food and Drug Administration tests only .02 percent of all imported fish for species identification, Robert M. Ulrich, chief technology officer of PureMolecular, told SeafoodSource. Media outlets and Oceana studies have found a high rate of seafood mislabeling in U.S. restaurants and retailers.

In addition, the FDA and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) have come under increasing pressure to improve seafood labeling and inspections. In late January, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) proposed legislation that will require “increased inspection and testing standards for all imported seafood products.” It also requires harsher penalties for anyone who knowingly mislabels products, and allows for a ban on imports from violators.

In fact, representatives from government agencies have expressed interest in buying PureMolecular’s new hand-held units.”There is a large push in the FDA and NOAA’s NMFS for genetic identification, particularly methods that will be quicker than standard FDA testing,” Ulrich said.

PureMolecular is testing an assay for grouper first. “One of our highest commercially-prized fish in Florida is grouper, but the Oceana study found a 26 percent mislabeling rate for grouper nationwide. The task of identifying true grouper does get complicated because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows 64 species of fish to be labeled as ‘grouper’, so we chose to develop the grouper assay first,” Robert M. Ulrich, chief technology officer of PureMolecular, told SeafoodSource.

InstantLabs is also developing tests for catfish, snapper, grouper and tilapia, because the Commerce Department identified those species as the ones most often substituted in the U.S. marketplace. However, Guterman does not expect those tests to be commercially available until later this year.

Likewise, PureMolecular’s DNA testing is not yet commercially available. It is still in beta testing and plans to take pre-orders by this summer. Ulrich hopes the DNA testing software for grouper and other species will be commercially available by the end of this year.

PureMolecular will next develop DNA testing software for bluefin tuna, red snapper and shrimp. “High grade bluefin tuna us one of the most highly mis-labeled category, and red snapper was the most mis-labeled fish, according to Oceana,” Ulrich said.

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