DNA barcoding of more than 1,400 Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labelled products has shown that less than 1% were mislabeled, compared with a reported average global seafood mislabeling rate of 30%, according to a new study.

The results, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests that the MSC’s ecolabeling and Chain of Custody program is an effective deterrent for systematic and deliberate species substitution and fraud.  

“There is widespread concern over the vulnerability of seafood supply chains to deliberate species mislabeling and fraud. In the past, this has included some of the most loved species such as cod being substituted by farmed catfish, which can seriously undermine consumer trust and efforts to maintain sustainable fisheries,” says the MSC’s Jaco Barendse, the lead author on the paper.

DNA methods have been widely used to detect species mislabelling and a recent meta-analysis of 4,500 seafood product tests from 51 peer-reviewed publications found an average of 30% were not the species stated on the label or menu In the present study, the largest and most comprehensive assessment of MSC-labeled products, the MSC worked with laboratories of the TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network and SASA’s (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) Wildlife DNA Forensic unit to employ DNA barcoding to identify the species in 1402 MSC certified fish products from 18 countries.  

They found that 1,389 were labeled correctly and 13 were not. This represents a total rate of less than 1% (0.92) species mislabeling in contrast to the global average of 30%. Mislabeled products were found in fresh and frozen pre-packed products and in restaurants, mainly in western Europe, with one case in the USA. All cases of mislabeling were identified in whitefish (cods, hakes, hoki) and flatfish products.