What is "misbranding"? Misbranding is a term used the US Code to describe products that are not properly identified by their labels. Consumers rely on retailers to provide them with adequate information on which they can rely when making a purchasing decision. The government protects consumers from various types of problems that would arise if labels are not correct, including fraud, by enforcing the misbranding statutes, among others. Alternatively known as economic adulteration, economic fraud, or other terms, there can be severe financial, health, and consumer confidence issues related to this type of fraud.
Does the FDA inspect each fish? No. In fact, only about 2% of all shipments of seafood into the US are tested annually. Although inspectors are experts at identifying certain issues, government agencies just don't have the resources and funding available to test every single fish imported into the U.S. However, this lower rate of inspection is the exact reason why the fines for mislabeling are so severe and don't require the government to prove knowledge. However, the FDA announced the opening of 5 DNA testing labs for species identification by the end of 2011. Furthermore, state agencies also conduct testing. Because state agencies are usually testing at the retail level, they usually find mislabeling at retailers and distributors.
What is taxonomic validation? Taxonomic validation is visual identification to determine a fish's species by a taxonomist (a scientist specializing in species identification). Essentially, a highly-trained expert, usually having a PhD and traditionally working at a museum and/or university, carefully distinguishes the visual characteristics of a fish, such as shape, size, color, arrangement of the fins, and other phenotypic indications of species. The taxonomist then compares the characteristics of the sample fish to those of the originally classified species. With taxonomic validation, every consumer of fish is able to know for sure they are communicating about fish with the same characteristics as every fish within a given species.
What is sustainability? As the world's population continues to grow, the demand for new sources of food also increases. In the past century, society has witnessed the increased availability of freezer storage methods, seafood processing at sea, and the advent ships able to fish for extended periods of time. The increased demand for seafood to meet the needs of our growing population, in addition to these technological innovations, has greatly increased the pressure on the fish-producing areas of our oceans. If we continue to allow harvesting of every fish technology allows us to catch, fish populations will be unable to reproduce themselves fast enough to meet our needs. Once this occurs, these fish will no longer be available for future generations to enjoy. Thus, environmentally conscious governments, corporations and people are working to create blueprints by which harvesting of seafood is conducted in such a way that destruction of habitat does not occur.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done to reach true sustainability. Currently, many fisheries are thoroughly examined to determine the maximum amount of fish of each species can be harvested in order to maintain populations within the fishery. The problem with most fisheries strategies is that the species identification is left to the fishermen who have the most of lose financially if they are forced to return certain species to the sea to meet the guidelines. While most fishermen are honestly concerned with sustainability, there is an incentive for the unscrupulous few to cheat and over-harvest certain species. Often, the fish are filleted at sea and are, thus, unidentifiable by mere visual inspection once they reach the docs. A recent study revealed that even with MSC certification, fisheries origin can still be incorrect. Thus, only fisheries that are monitored by the DNA-based identification offered by AFT are truly able to produce sustainable results for future generations.
How can DNA testing with AFT help save endangered seafood species? Some species of fish are close to extinction. Other fish species are suffering from over-harvesting of their habitat, resulting in diminished genetic diversity, which can deplete the population's ability to survive in the long run. The biggest problems arise when people perceive that more of a certain species exists than actually does because the mislabeled fish create the perception of more supply. Since price is the point where supply meets demand, the price for the endangered species is artificially lower than it should be as a result of this "increased supply." However, if only properly labeled fillets of endangered fish were sold, then the price would increase, thus decreasing demand. For example, roughly ¾ of red snapper has been found to be mislabeled in some studies. If only red snapper were being sold as red snapper, then only ¼ as much red snapper would be available and, thus, the price would increase. This increase would compensate fishermen for abiding by fishing limits and would encourage consumers to purchase more sustainable, and available, fish species. Conversely, any program designed to protect endangered species that does not test with AFT ends up penalizing honest members of the industry and rewarding those who dishonestly mislabel.
How is using fish for environmental testing (AFT's EcoArray proprietary technology) better to test for environmental contaminants than just water sampling alone? EcoArray uses the gene expression profile of fish to determine the levels of environmental contamination that fish to which that fish has been exposed. Many different strategies for testing environmental pollutants can be used in unison to provide the best data to protect our lakes, rivers, and oceans for future generations. Unlike traditional water sampling techniques, which rely on samples of water from a single spot (which may be fast moving water, slow moving water, murky water, etc), a fish swims in every part of the body of water, and takes an "average" reading of toxicity over a period of time. Thus, the EcoArray test provides a better method for testing the average health of a body of water than a single sampling method can provide.