'Cod fraud' uncovered by BBC NI food sample tests

Fish fingers were among the products tested during the BBC investigation

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Food tests commissioned for BBC Northern Ireland have found some products labelled as cod did not contain any cod at all.

The BBC asked Belfast's Institute for Global Food Security to examine 30 foods after the recent horsemeat scare.

Beef and lamb samples were all found to be clear, but two out of 10 products labelled as cod did not contain any traces of that fish whatsoever.

The institute said cheaper types of fish were being passed off as cod.

The institute is based at Queen's University, Belfast (QUB) and its director, Professor Chris Elliott, described the findings as "fish fraud".

Start Quote

Professor Chris Elliott

People are buying cod, which is a high value fish, and actually they are getting a low value fish”

End Quote Professor Chris Elliott Institute for Global Food Security

He said while it was not a food safety issue, it was "another example of the integrity of the food chain being shown to be substandard".

DNA testing

Last month, the BBC bought a total of 30 food products at random for testing from supermarkets, shops and butchers in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

Ten products, labelled as beef, were tested by QUB for traces of horsemeat and 10 processed lamb products were tested for cross-contamination with pork.

All samples were found to be as described on the labelling.

Queen's University sent 10 cod products that were purchased at the same time to an institute it works closely with in Scotland for DNA testing.

"Only in eight of the 10 cases they could find cod being present," said Professor Elliott.

"Does it have an impact on safety? Really, it does not. People are buying cod, which is a high value fish, and actually they are getting a low value fish."

The snapshot survey confirms evidence from other studies, some carried out recently.

Biologists at the University of Salford carried out tests in fish and chip shops, supermarkets and restaurants across the UK and discovered that 7% of the fish was not what it was sold as.

QUB scientist QUB tested the beef and lamb products and sent fish samples to Scotland for DNA testing

Professor Elliott said: "The industry has to take this seriously."

He described the issue as "fish fraud" where a cheaper fish species is passed off as cod.

'Consumer confidence'

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, which represents many but not all of the big supermarkets, said any labelling issue was of concern.

Its director, Aodhán Connolly, said: "It alarms me it could be a knock for consumer confidence.

"We have a series of audits. Otherwise we would not be able to tell consumers what species they are buying, how it was caught, or even what region it is from.

"We are always confident those processes are in place. If you are saying there have been problems identified then we will step up to the plate."

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