Two high school students, Brenda Tan and Matt Cost at the Trinity School of Manhattan, gathered 151 DNA samples from foods and objects in their and neighbor’s homes as part of a science project. Of the samples, a large percentage were found to not be what their packaging said they were – they were mislabeled and, some think, intentionally so.
The project was part of a test of a technology that Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History have developed. The technology is a new databank of DNA “bar codes” pioneered by Canadian scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario. What the results from those tests showed is alarming.
Of 66 fish samples, 11 of them were mislabeled as the wrong type of fish. Most of those fish were the prepackaged varieties. Expensive sheep`s milk cheese and pricey goat`s milk were both found to have been from cows instead. Venison dog treats were based on beef, not venison. Sturgeon caviar was found to really be from Mississippi paddlefish.
The DNA samples were gathered from their homes and neighbors` homes and were purchased as products from local supermarkets and food stores. They found that of the hundreds of samples taken, most had detectable DNA samples available (even after having been frozen).
The usable samples were then sent to Rockefeller University, who pulled the DNA sequences and sent electronic queries on the samples through the AMNH Consortium for the Bar Code of Life database. The reports were then returned to the high schoolers, who compiled the results against the original source. They indicate that the substitutions are purposeful, with the swapped items being very much like those they are replacing, except cheaper.
The work by these two students follows that done in 2008 by two others, who found that 25% of the fish they purchased and tested was mislabeled. The FDA has adopted the database for use in fish identification and the USDA is working towards using the Code of Life to identify fruit fly species and lumber from endangered trees. Results from the hard work of the Trinity students will be published in the January 2010 issue of BioScience.
Bob Hanner, a biologist at Guelph who led the work on this new type of DNA bar coding and cataloging, said he works closely with the FDA and USDA and that as the technology gains ground, he hopes to see it used to combat mislabeling, smuggling, and more.
As a final cap to their great work, the two high school students have been told that they may have identified a new species of cockroach as well. This, of course, made national news headlines while the larger story about the mislabeling was ignored.
Food mislabeling is nothing new, of course, as NaturalNews has noted in the past.
BioScience Magazine, January 2010 Issue.
U.S. Student sleuths use unique Cdn technology to identify mislabeled foods, Canadian Press, Dec. 28, 2009.
Many Sugar-Free Food Products Mislabeled, Warns FDA, David Gutierrez, NaturalNews