'Wild' fish found to be farmedTen per cent of samples wrongly labelled

04 May 2007

 

Samples of fish sold as ‘wild’ in UK stores including Harrods and Sainsbury's had been farmed, tests revealed.

A Food Standards Agency snapshot survey found around 10 per cent of samples were wrongly labelled as wild.

Tests were carried out on sea bass, sea bream and salmon bought anonymously at supermarkets, fishmongers, fish auctions and specialist food shops.

Oil extracted from the samples revealed whether the fish were wild-caught or had been farmed.

Farmed fish

Of the 128 fish samples tested, 10 per cent of the ‘wild’ sea bass was found to be farmed, rising to 11 per cent of the sea bream and 15 per cent of the salmon.

Most of the fish wrongly described as wild was bought in local retail outlets.

But tests revealed one sample of sea bass from an Asda store in Gloucester, one salmon sample from a Sainsbury's in Stroud and one salmon sample from Harrods in London had been farmed, the Food Standards Agency said.

Responding to the findings, Asda flatly denied ever selling farmed sea bass marked as wild.

The chain said the store had displayed an old notice on the fish counter which implied the product was wild, but the on-pack label made clear it was farmed.

Deter food fraud

A second part of the food watchdog's survey found 15 per cent of retailers provided shoppers with no information - or incorrect details - about the origin of their fish.

Dr Mark Woolfe, head of the agency's food authenticity branch, said the survey's findings should help deter future ‘food fraud’.

‘Although this survey only gives us a snapshot of the market at the time the samples were taken, it does show areas where retailers can tighten up their procedures so that people both know and get what they are paying for,’ he said.

Local authority officers will visit the retailers concerned to explain fish labelling laws and decide whether to take further action, the Food Standards Agency said.

The FSA's report says: ‘The results are not representative of all ‘wild’ fish on sale, but the survey indicates an underlying problem with misdescription of these three types of wild fish.’

'Human error'

A Harrods spokesman said: ‘Four out of the five fish samples tested last summer were proven to be wild. Purchasing records show that both farmed and wild salmon were purchased and made available for sale at the time of the sampling.

‘It appears that on the day the sample in question was purchased, human error may have been responsible for farmed and wild salmon (which are sold adjacent to each other) being mixed up. Revised stock control measures have subsequently been implemented to avoid a reoccurrence of the problem.'

Sainsbury's said in a statement: ‘We take this report very seriously and have launched an investigation.

‘Each batch of Wild Alaskan Salmon is checked for traceability and chain of custody as soon as it arrives in this country.

‘As the product is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), traceability must be particularly robust, and the system is independently checked and audited by the MSC.’

Which? food campaigner Miranda Watson, said: ‘Increasingly people choose food products on the basis of how they have been produced or reared. It is unacceptable that people are being misled in this way.

‘Trading Standards must step in to tackle the offenders and prevent consumers from being misled in the future.’

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