Fraudulent caviar labelling falls after trade convention
July 31 2012 Lewis Smith
Beluga sturgeon caviar being collected
DNA testing has revealed that mislabelling of caviar halved after international trade regulations were imposed.
Scientists said the finding suggested that protection to threatened species offered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was having a significant impact.
“The results of our analysis suggest that the international trade regulation of sturgeon products due to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species listing is having a positive effect in the marketplace,” said Dr Phaedra Doukakis, who worked at Stony Brook University when the study was conducted.
“CITES is clearly an important tool for regulating trade and serves as an important complement to management in the regions where fishing occurs. More marine and aquatic species could benefit from being listed under the Convention.”
Researchers reached their conclusion after DNA testing samples purchased in the New York City area from 2006-8 and comparing them with the results of a similar experiment conducted in 1995-6.
Sturgeon and its caviar were given protection under CITES in 1998 and were among the flagship species that the convention was intended to safeguard.
Before being protected 19 per cent of the samples were found to have been mislabelled after mitochondrial DNA was identified. After getting protection the proportion that were wrongly labelled fell to ten per cent, all of which were online sales.
Dr Ellen Pikitch, of Stony Brook University, said the findings were encouraging but pointed out that species such as the beluga sturgeon are still endangered despite the protection afforded them.
“It’s encouraging that the extent of illegal trade has diminished in recent years since international trade restrictions have come into force. Consumers can now be highly confident that what’s written on the label accurately describes what’s in the tin,” she said.
George Damato, director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History, added: “The results of this study demonstrate the effectiveness of DNA-based methods to identify the species of origin for detection of illegal products in the marketplace.
“Moreover, these results demonstrate if this type of genetic testing is used by inspection officials in real time, it can help detect and discourage illegal harvesting of threatened and endangered marine species in the geographic regions in which it is occurring.”
In their report on the study, published in the online journal PLoS ONE, the research team said: “Our temporal analysis indicates that CITES trade regulation is having a positive effect, confirming the utility of the most important international treaty regulating the trade in wildlife for a group of globally traded aquatic and marine species.
“Unfortunately, the conservation status of many sturgeon species has not improved since CITES listing, with most commercially traded species now critically endangered and many, such as beluga, currently being overfished. Limiting fishing in range states and further curtailing trade will be necessary to allow depleted sturgeon populations to recover.”
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