Food Fraud In The Seafood Supply Chain
Seafood is one of the most internationally traded food commodities, with a complex and often opaque supply chain that involves many stakeholders and processes involved. As demand for seafood increases globally, so does the potential for food fraud. This type of criminal activity has serious consequences, including the undermining of marine conservation efforts, overexploitation of fish populations, and potential risks to public health from unlabeled allergens.
This review examined fraud incidents in the global seafood industry that occurred between January 2010 and December 2020. The paper identified 11 “sins” of seafood:
- Species substitution (claiming that a fish is a different species than it is)
- Fishery substitution (claiming that a fish came from a different fishery than it did)
- Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing substitution (concealing that a fish was caught illegally)
- Species adulteration (including unlabelled substances in processed fish, such as colorants, pesticides, veterinary products, or other species of fish)
- Chain of custody abuse (misrepresenting who owned the fish when)
- Catch-method fraud (claiming that a fish was caught using a different method than it was)
- Undeclared product extension (making the product appear heavier than it is)
- Modern-day slavery (engaging in human trafficking or slavery)
- Animal welfare (misrepresenting how a fish was treated)
- Illegality related to processing methods (processing fishes in an illegal location or using illegal techniques)
- Illegal or unauthorized international trade (smuggling)
The study found that more than half (52%) of the issues reported across all four datasets involved species adulteration. The most common kind of species adulteration was the presence of illegal or unauthorized veterinary residues in seafood. Species adulteration was most common in seafood originating from Asia, where antibiotics are used both to prevent and treat diseases.
14% of issues involved chain of custody abuse. According to the authors, this usually indicates some other fraud occurring earlier in the supply chain, which the chain of custody abuse was intended to cover up. Chain of custody abuse may not be the most common kind of fraud. However, it’s easier to catch because of mandatory border checks.
The authors didn’t find any cases of animal welfare fraud in their dataset. They believe that, because fish welfare is poorly regulated, few people have an incentive to commit animal welfare fraud. The dataset underrepresented catch method fraud, illegal fishing substitution, and modern-day slavery, because these forms of fraud are hard to catch.
The authors discovered three clusters of particularly common kinds of fraud. First, shrimps from Asia, especially India and Vietnam, are particularly likely to be contaminated with illegal veterinary residues. Second, chain of custody abuse and unauthorized international trade are particularly likely to occur with products from Africa and South America. Finally, in Europe and the U.S., many businesses close to the customer engage in species substitution, species adulteration, illegal processing, and undeclared product extension.
The authors recommend better recording of fraud cases through a standardized dataset and further supply chain research, with the aim of preventing and mitigating fraudulent practices.
The results of this paper also highlight the need to inform consumers of the health risks, exploitation, and general fraud in the seafood industry. Public education efforts can play an important role in encouraging consumers to choose plant-based seafood products. This can help reduce the demand for seafood, thus saving the lives of fishes while also preventing practices that are harmful to animals, people, and the environment.