Click here to learn about our new study. With the advent of DNA forensics, research on seafood fraud has increased drastically. The documentation of mislabeling has raised concern over the identity, value, and safety of seafood. However, the general characterization of mislabeling is limited. We conduct a Bayesian meta-analysis to estimate global mislabeling rates and their uncertainty across several factors. While the effort to document mislabeling is impressive, it is highly skewed toward certain taxa and geographies. For most products, including all invertebrates, there is insufficient data to produce useful estimates. For others, the uncertainty of estimates has been underappreciated. Mislabeling is commonly characterized by study-level means. Doing so often overestimates mislabeling, masks important product information, and is of limited utility—particularly given that studies often lack adequate sampling designs for parameter estimation. At the global level, overall mislabeling rates do not differ statistically across supply chain locations, product forms, or countries. Product-level estimates are the most informative. The majority of products, for which there is sufficient data, have mislabeling estimates lower than commonly re- ported. The most credible average mislabeling rate at the product-level is 8% (95% HDI: 4–14%). Importantly, some products have high estimates, which should be priorities for research and interventions. Estimates must be combined with other data in order to understand the extent and potential consequences of mislabeling, which is likely to vary drastically by product. Our meta-analysis, which can be updated with new data, provides a foundation for prioritizing research to inform programs and policies to reduce seafood fraud.
Click here to learn about our new study. Abstract: Seafood mislabeling is receiving increased attention by civil society, and programs and policies to address it are being implemented widely. Yet, evidence for the causes of mislabeling are largely limited to anecdotes and untested hypotheses. Mislabeling is commonly assumed to be motivated by the desire to label a lesser value product as a higher value one. Using price data from mislabeling studies, Δmislabel is estimated (i.e., the difference between the price of a labeled seafood product and its substitute when it was not mislabeled) and a meta-analysis is conducted to evaluate the evidence for an overall mislabeling for profit driver for seafood fraud. Evidence is lacking; rather, Δmislabel is highly variable. Country nor location in the supply chain do not account for the observed heterogeneity. The Δmislabel of substitute species, however, provides insights. Some species, such a sturgeon caviar, Atlantic Salmon, and Yellowfin Tuna have a positive Δmislabel, and may have the sufficient characteristics to motivate mislabeling for profit. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and Patagonian Toothfish have a negative Δmislabel, which could represent an incentive to mislabel in order to facilitate market access for illegally-landed seafood. Most species have price differentials close to zero—suggesting other incentives may be influencing seafood mislabeling. Less than 10% of studies report price information; doing so more often could provide insights into the motivations for fraud. The causes of mislabeling appear to be diverse and context dependent, as opposed to being driven primarily by one incentive.
Research on seafood fraud is a nascent topic. A recent study makes the claim that “mislabeling results in the sale of items of better conservation status and nearly equivalent price.” However the study has a number of issues that questions its main conclusions. First, based on the data and results that are presented, there appear to be errors and some of the conclusions are not supported. Second, there may be a bias in the analyses that favors the conclusions. Third, details are lacking regarding the analyses, challenging their verification. ACS published a letter in the journal Conservation Letters describing the issues. Seafood fraud results from natural and human systems interacting in complex ways, which is likely resulting in place-based consequences. We argue that in order to characterize the system dynamics and provide insights into the financial and ecological implications of seafood fraud, a more careful and cautious approach is required.