Hong Kong, 11 September 2018 Rainbow trout can now be labeled and sold as salmon in mainland China, according to media report quoting a Chinese government-affiliated organization, the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA), which is overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Story link: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2159890/rainbow-trout-same-salmon-china-says-yes-despite-food-safety

However, academics have claimed that rainbow trout if eaten raw, can pass parasites to humans.

Rainbow trout cannot be eaten as sashimi because it needs to be fully cooked,” he said. “The parasite can live in the human liver and cause liver damage,” said Kenneth Leung, professor of aquatic ecology and toxicology at the University of Hong Kong[1].

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the situation is not much better.

“Seafood product labelling should include the species’ common names as well as their scientific names in Latin in order to avoid confusion. The shocking fact is that different seafood species are very often grouped and labelled under one common name in Hong Kong, that is to say, ‘a cow is a donkey’, but clearly, that is not true,” said Claire Viaggi, spokesperson of MNC Asia, a seafood supplier in Hong Kong.

There are approximately nine commercial species of salmon and trout which belong to the same fish family (salmonids), however some of them lookalike. It can be very difficult to differentiate between them, especially there are many species of fish.  

For example, Cod and Oilfish, Leopard coral grouper and Squaretail coral trout, Vietnamese pangasius and Sole, Tilapia and Snapper are fish that consumers often get confused about.

“Rainbow trout and salmon look similar when filleted, and we doubt that most regular consumers would be able to tell the difference between them. Therefore, salmon should be labelled with more details such as its scientific name and origin, as the name ‘salmon’ itself covers different species such as Atlantic salmon, pink salmon, sockeye salmon, etc.

The most common salmon is Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) whereas Rainbow trout is Ooncorhynchus mykiss. In this case, the scientific names are totally different so nobody should label them under a same name,” said Viaggi.

Lack of labelling and mislabeling is definitely a problem. “Whether the product was farmed or wild-caught in saltwater or freshwater should also be made available, because fish farmed in freshwater tend to pose a relatively higher risk to human health when eaten raw, such as rainbow trout,” said Stan Shea, marine biologist and author of numerous scientific studies on reef food fish.

The Centre for Food Safety published an article[2]titled “Clonorchis sinensis in Raw Freshwater Fish” in 2010, based on the local media reports in September 2010 regarding the high prevalence of Clonorchis sinensis (also known as liver fluke) infection in Shenzhen, associated with consumption of raw or undercooked freshwater fish.

Another news report[3] in 2015 mentioned that the Hong Kong Government has banned the consumption of raw freshwater fish for more than 30 years, due to the fatal effect of parasite infection (Clonorchis sinensis).

Viaggi also said: “from a business perspective, the decision of China will affect the commercial value of both fish species.

From the perspective of consumers, the act of grouping of different species under a single name definitely misleads consumers, and it would not encourage good industry practices, consumer awareness and global sustainability. “We would rather encourage the industry to display scientific name of the species sold in order to better inform customers and educate them about the differences between species.

This incident shows why accurate labelling of all seafood products is necessary, whether in China or Hong Kong. There have been reports[4], investigations and observations highlighting the mislabeling reef food fish and seafood in general by local retailers. For instance,  

  1. June 2018, ParknShop Superstore, Shatin – the frozen Japanese threadfin bream was labelled as Golden threadfin bream[5];
  2. June 2018, Fusion supermarket, Yuen Long – Spinycheek grouper was labelled as frozen Areolate grouper[6];
  3. June 2018, ParknShop, Mei Foo – Brownstripe red snapper was labelled as Russell’s snapper[7];
  4. June 2018, China Resources Vanguard, Ngau Tau Kok – Striped catfish labelled as “New Zealand sole” while there was no export of Striped catfish from New Zealand but Southeast Asia[8];
  5. November 2016, Taste Supermarket, Kowloon Tong – Leopard coral trout but a DNA analysis proved that to be Squaretail coral grouper (a globally vulnerable species listed by IUCN)[9];
  6. September 2017, ParkNShop Supermarket – Yuen Long in Hong Kong, it was found that Golden threadfin bream were labelled as Yellowfin seabream;
  7. November 2018, Yata Supermarket, Hang Hau – unidentified species was labelled as sea fish.
    ParknShopYuenLong Golden Threadfin Bream

Mislabeling not only misleads consumers into paying higher prices, it also shows how retailers are disregarding food safety and seafood sustainability,” said Bertha Lo, Communications Manager of the Choose Right Today website – a platform promoting marine and seafood sustainability.

Lo added, “Stricter and proper food product labelling laws and even penalty for false information need to be quickly introduced and properly enforced. This is what the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department needs to do to fight seafood fraud which is a global problem.”

90% of all seafood available in Hong Kong is imported and it is to our favour to greatly enhance the traceability of our seafood products that is vital for food safety, legality and sustainability.  There are two recommendations and it is best they take place simultaneously.

First, enforcing labelling requirement that any relevant seafood product sold in prepackaged form bear a label on the packaging and all such labels contain true information related to the product such as: common or commercial name and/or the scientific species designation, country of origin, catch method, the name of the company or other party responsible for its original catch, whether it has been frozen and/or defrosted, any treatment(s) applied and its location, whether there has been genetic modification.

Second, any false, misleading and absence of required information on the label should be made an offence, particularly when the false or missing information is associated with the environmental or ethical circumstances of any part of its production or supply chain. The offender is liable to a fine and/or imprisonment of six months if the offence is committed.”

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Media assets: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ZxV7i6_8RH_NNLmcIvtXkLBV5EhnrucP?usp=sharing

Media Contact: Bertha Lo ||Mobile: +852 6190 8029 ||Email:  [email protected]


[1] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2159890/rainbow-trout-same-salmon-china-says-yes-despite-food-safety

[2]  https://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/multimedia/multimedia_pub/multimedia_pub_fsf_52_01.html

[3]   https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/dangers-of-consuming-raw-freshwater-fish

[4-9]   https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2161228/incorrect-seafood-labelling-hong-kong-supermarkets

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