Consumers are being misled or overpriced for mislabeled seafood products due to the lack of transparency and reliability of information.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) said 82 percent of seafood products it investigated did not come with key information on their packaging, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
These types of information include the name of the species, the country of origin and production method.
The survey covered four frozen seafood products — shrimp, grouper, basa and sea cucumber. It was carried out between July and November 2015 in 96 supermarkets operated by nine groups.
WWF said the most compliant only provided all three types of information in slightly more than 40 percent of the seafood products sold in their outlets.
Moretide Investment Ltd., owner of Kai Bo Food Supermarket, had none of these three types of information on almost 24 percent of its products.
DNA tests by the University of Hong Kong found that frozen leopard coral trout (plectropomus leopardus) sold at A.S. Watson was in fact squaretail coralgrouper (plectropomus areolatus).
The mislabeling could cause buyers to pay more. The former species should normally cost twice as much as the latter.
Squaretail coralgrouper has been listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature while leopard coral trout is categorized as “near threatened” species, WWF said.
A.S. Watson was also found selling frozen sea cucumber (actinopyga lecanora) labeled from Nigeria, where the species has never been recorded, suggesting that either the species or the country of origin was incorrect.
Jovy Chan, WWF Hong Kong senior program officer for sustainable seafood, said mislabeling of products is a violation of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.
Also, it makes it more difficult to recall products if they are found to pose health risks.
She said information about species, country of origin and production method is crucial for consumers who wish to check the sustainability of the seafood they consume.
WWF is urging supermarket operators to do a better job in their seafood procurement. Some housewives interviewed by Apple Daily said they are likely to accept labels on food products.
The Customs and Excise Department said in response to the WWF report that it has received consumers’ complaints about mislabeling and investigations are under way.
A spokesman for the department said offenders could face a fine of up to HK$500,000 and a maximum of 10 years in prison.
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