Sunday, January 03, 2010

NY Students Reveal Mislabeled Food Through DNA Testing

Not everyone reads the details on their food labels. And there is a lively debate about how much information to provide to consumers, how to provide that information, and how much our "storied food" tells a true story. However, I recently read about the exposure of real food fraud, thanks to a New York high school DNA testing project. Two students uncovered some mislabeling of the most overt sort. Stuff that was just not what it was supposed to be.

Through DNA testing the students found food labeled as sturgeon caviar that was in fact Mississippi paddlefish; "sheep's milk cheese" that made from cow's milk; "smelt" that was Japanese anchovy; and "venison dog treats" made from beef.

The LA Times blog, Booster Shot picked up the story and quoted the students report:

"We do not know where or why the mislabeling occurred, but most cases appeared to involve substitution of a less expensive or less desirable item, suggesting the possibility of deliberate mislabeling for economic gain. We also think mislabeling is a serious problem because certain individuals have allergies or dietary restrictions regarding certain foods. ... Like a powerful flashlight, DNA exposes hidden identities of living and once-living things. We look forward to more explorations!"

There are, of course, a couple of good aspects to the story. First, what a great way to introduce students to the power of information and of science. Second, what a good way to catch mislabeling. My guess is that companies may be less hesitant to cheat if they worry about getting caught.


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