The DNA Detectives That Reveal What #Seafood You’re Really Eating.

See on Scoop.itOur World.

Whenever LeeAnn Applewhite goes out to dinner for seafood, she makes sure to order extra for take-out, but the fish doesn’t go in the fridge. Instead, she takes it to her lab, extracts a microscopic sample of DNA, and samples a few key genes to reveal which species the sample belongs to.

In an age where roughly a third of all seafood served in the U.S. is mislabeled, she finds that the DNA and menu often disagree. “I’ve come across some real doozies,” she says. “The lobster bisque is actually shrimp, or—this one is the most common—the grouper is really vietnamese catfish.”

Applewhite is particularly qualified to make these distinctions. She’s the founder and CEO of the Florida-based Applied Food Technologies (AFT), a company that provides DNA identification of seafood for restaurants, grocery chains, distributors, government agencies and importers.

Having the technology to detect seafood fraud is a modern development, but the practice itself is age-old. “It’s gone on forever,” Applewhite says. “A fisherman goes out, harvests massive quantities of fish, whatever’s in that harvest gets filleted, and once the head, tail and scales are gone, you really can’t tell what it is.”

Mislabeling can be inadvertent (the result of bycatch being identified as the fish species targeted) or intentional (a cheaper species, like Asian catfish, getting labeled as grouper to fetch a higher price). And it’s especially prevalent because roughly 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported, making tracking more difficult.


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