Restaurant inspections in Reykjavík have failed to find evidence of seafood fraud indicated by a 2016 study that made international headlines recently, Vísir reports. The study indicated that Icelandic restaurants had some of the highest rates of mislabelled fish in all of Europe. Óskar Ísfeld Sigurðsson, head of food control at the Reykjavík Public Health Authority, says the study results do not reflect food inspectors’ experience.
UK media outlet the Guardian published an article last week consolidating 44 studies of seafood products sold in restaurants, markets, and auctions around the world over the past several years. The article stated that of some 9,000 products, nearly 40% were incorrectly labelled. In some cases a cheaper fish was labelled as a more expensive variety, while in others potentially poisonous species were mislabelled, leading to health risk.
Study Suggested 40% of Fish Mislabelled
One of the studies cited was published in 2018 and concerned restaurants across Europe. It found the highest percentage of incorrect labelling in Spain, Iceland, France, and Germany. The Icelandic samples for the study were taken at 22 restaurants in 2016. DNA analysis revealed that 23% of the samples belonged to another species than was advertised and fish had been mislabelled at 40% of restaurants.
Jónas Rúnar Viðarsson of Icelandic Food and Biotech Consulting Company Matís was one of the authors of the study. He stated that a comparable inspection has not taken place since. Conducing such studies is expensive and requires special funding. “It is mainly the Public Health Authority in Reykjavík that has some ability to do something, but it also has to monitor a lot of restaurants. These kinds of studies are expensive,” he stated.
Mistakes More Likely Explanation than Scam
Óskar Ísfeld Sigurðsson, head of food control at the Reykjavík Public Health Authority, says the organisation has placed great emphasis on tracing the origin of food products in recent years. While they do not carry out DNA testing like that conducted in the 2016 study, they inspect restaurant menus and whether the correspond to raw ingredients in their freezers and fridges.
“If we see expensive fish on the menu and some cheaper fish in the fridge, it would arouse our suspicion, but we do not see any examples of this. These results don’t match our experience,” Óskar said about the 2016 study. Óskar says he expressed doubt about the study’s results when it was first published, saying he didn’t believe it painted a realistic picture of the situation. He requested information on which restaurants had been found to falsely label fish, but was denied, as the data was collected for a scientific study and not public health monitoring.
According to Óskar, the mislabelling could more likely be attributed to servers incorrectly naming fish on the menu or simply unintentional mistakes. There have even been examples of restaurants selling more expensive species as cheaper species, something no restaurateur would do on purpose.