Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, indeed. How about Mississippi paddle fish plans? That's what some unsuspecting consumers got instead of the elegant fish eggs from Russia they thought they had purchased. In hard times, sometimes we look for a little affordable luxury -- just beware of that organic clover honey cut with corn syrup.
According to The Washington Post, fake foods are on the rise. For instance, the paper reports last year, a Fairfax, Va. man was convicted of selling 10 million pounds of frozen catfish fillets from Vietnam as much more expensive grouper, red snapper and flounder. The fake fish was bought by national chain retailers, wholesalers and food service companies and flopped onto tables across the country.
Food fraud has been found not only in the high-end Dean & Deluca kind of foods, but in Safeway type staples such as juice, olive oil, spices, vinegar, liquor, maple syrup, and of course seafood. The widespread fraud causes not only individual consumers to pay the price, but the big guys (for a change) to get hurt as well. As discussed in a post on FindLaw's Legally Weird Blog, the Gallo Wine company was recently found to have inadvertently sold merlot or shiraz instead of the pinot noir it thought and claimed it sold under the well-known "Red Bicyclette" label. Defrauded by its own French suppliers, now Gallo is facing a suit for fraud.
The oversight for ensuring proper food labeling belongs to the FDA, but according to The Post, the agency is so consumed with food contamination problems, fraud has fallen by the wayside. John Spink, an expert on food and packaging fraud at Michigan State University, estimates that 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. food supply is affected, but says that number could be even higher.
Fortunately, science to the rescue. DNA and isotope ratio analysis can help authorities determine what exactly is in that food you are eating as you peruse this post. DNA testing in New York has revealed for example, that 11 out of 66 foods randomly selected from Manhattan groceries were mislabeled. This includes that caviar.