SINGAPORE: The genetic material of pigs was found in one brand of cuttlefish and prawn balls sold in Singapore, research from the National University of Singapore has found.
In a study published on Thursday (Oct 31), the researchers from NUS' Department of Biological Sciences reported that pig DNA was detected in samples from a seafood brand, which was not named by them.
While they initially suspected lab contamination, the "same seafood brand repeatedly yielded pig DNA in five samples which were bought at different times and places", the study said.
This could be the "most serious case of mislabelling" for a multi-religious society like Singapore among the instances they found from the testing of 105 samples of fresh and frozen seafood from six supermarkets and two seafood restaurants in Singapore.
"Fortunately, the samples were not labelled as halal or kosher, but such cases do highlight the need for regular testing of heavily processed, multi-species seafood samples," researchers said.
They also found that all samples of processed seafood labelled as containing crustaceans - that is crab, prawn and/or lobster - yielded only fish DNA. In contrast, cuttlefish balls tested were indeed made of cuttlefish.
“We were unable to find any crustacean DNA in all eight samples. Fish DNA was abundant and we suspect that overall, many of these products do not include any or have only minuscule amounts of crustacean tissues."
Other examples of mislabelling highlighted include substituting arrowtooth flounder for halibut, chum salmon for wild-caught Atlantic salmon and one sample of capelin roe being sold as prawn roe.
"Such fraud is particularly common for fillets and heavily processed seafood products because they are not readily identifiable by eye," said researchers.
However, the researchers added that the level of clear-cut mislabelling in Singapore is not high in comparison with other countries in region.
Studies from Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam had found levels of mislabelling to be at around 60 per cent.
The main problem in Singapore is "creative labelling" especially for heavily processed products, they argued.
This is probably due to the lack of clear regulations in the Sale of Food Act. The law states that labels need to provide a name or description which is “sufficient to indicate the true nature of the food”.
Fish is defined as any aquatic organism commonly consumed by humans, which excludes mammals but includes crustaceans and molluscs.
"This state of affairs is no longer in line with the expectations of today’s consumers who expect labels to be precise," the researchers said.
They suggested a regulatory update may be needed, benchmarked against rules set by the European Union (EU).
The EU mandates that both the commercial and scientific name of the product should be listed on its label. The commercial names used also needs to be taken from approved lists published by EU member countries.
"Levels of seafood mislabelling may also drop in Singapore’s supermarkets if such legislation were to be enacted."