You may not be eating what you think is on your plate, reports Rose Eveleth for BBC Future:
From mislabeled meat to fake fur, a global industry has thrived for centuries by supplying shops and markets with fraudulent products. Is DNA barcoding the answer?
Investigations in New York’s Chinatown are a regular occurrence, but Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis’ mission was purely scientific. The professor of genetics at Barnard College sent his students out to trawl the markets’ open-air displays of exotic fish, fruit and vegetables, and purchase anything being sold as crocodile meat. When they brought the meat back and analysed it, they found it wasn’t from crocodile at all. Its origins weren’t exactly clear, but for all the world it looked suspiciously like some kind of python.
Slice it and package it in the right way, and one reptile’s meat looks – and may even taste – like another. From mislabeled crocodile to fake fur, a global industry has thrived for centuries by supplying shops and markets with fraudulent or counterfeit products. Until now, perhaps. Scientists and authorities think they can finally put an end to this unscrupulous trading by using a technique that can identify species from its genetic material like a barcode on a cereal box.
To see how authorities are beginning to use this method to tackle fraud, you need to travel just over 10 miles from Chinatown’s markets to a large, square, greyish building in Newark, New Jersey. There, on the fifth floor, one lab is trying to catch everything from fraudulent fish, to mislabeled toy cats, to illegally prepared sheep placenta in traditional Chinese medicine. The lab is run by the United States Customs and Border Patrol, but the science in question – DNA barcoding – is becoming more and more useful for law enforcement and research around the world…
[continues at BBC Future]