EU recognises important research on species protection

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UNIVERSITY of Salford research on fish fraud is impacting on policies to protect endangered species.

The EU-funded SNAPTRACE project, led by Professor Stefano Mariani, promotes the idea of selling each species of fish under its own specific name and is investigating the routine use of DNA barcoding to enforce this approach.

Salford is a leading centre for marine DNA ‘barcoding’, which works by using a short genetic sequence in an organism’s DNA to identify it as belonging to a particular species.

The scientists say the method could allow traders to use genetic markers to identify what fish they are actually buying.

Important research

The research is thought to be so significant for sustainable agendas that the EU Horizon 2020 publication ‘Horizon’ features the research in its latest edition.

‘There are 112 different species of snappers, for instance, and a lot of countries would allow any of them to be called snapper on the label,’ said Dr Donna Cawthorn, of the School of Environment & Life Sciences.

“Our project collects DNA samples of snappers around the world and references it against customs data. It appears that only half of the trade is entering into official statistics – meaning the other half could easily be different species sold as snappers.

“Every country has its own labelling standards, it’s only the EU that requires (Member States to use) specific names on packages, so it leaves the door wide open for various species to be passed off as snappers,’ said Dr Cawthorn.

Horse meat scandal

Market fraud surrounding mislabelled fish is similar in many ways to a scandal in 2013, when food labelled as beef was shown to contain horse meat.

The situation was actually uncovered by a DNA barcoding test on Irish fish. Professor Mariani was part of that fish fraud investigation and said it forced the Irish government to set up a food task force, which subsequently identified horse meat being sold as beef.

“People remember the horse meat scandal, but they don’t remember the fish fraud. Perhaps it’s easier for the general public to see fish as food as opposed to wildlife.”

“A key step would be that the same care and caution in reporting the exports, imports and production statistics are taken in each country,” said Prof. Mariani.

Professor Richard Stephenson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said the publication in Horizon was a great example of not only the excellence of Salford research but also its global impact.

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