A Caviar Crackdown Has Worked, Researchers Say
August 1, 2012
New York Times
by Florence Fabricant
The sturgeon caviar industry has changed drastically in the past 15 years or so. And now a study indicates that in New York, it has become more law-abiding and even ethical.
In 1998 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species listed sturgeon as endangered, and began regulating the sturgeon caviar trade. As a result, in recent years, the development of increasingly accomplished sturgeon aquaculture has drawn many consumers to the farmed variety, taking the pressure off the more expensive “wild” imports.
Better labeling requirements have also been put in place. And all the while, routine DNA spot-testing of caviar imports by United States government agencies have improved enforcement of regulations and uncovered examples of illegal and fraudulently labeled shipments, both farmed and wild, leading to fines and even imprisonment for offenders.
Last week, teams of scientists from the Institute for Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, and the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History, released a study of the New York City caviar market that was conducted from 2006 to 2008, to examine the amount of commercially available sturgeon caviar whose species was mislabeled. Labeling a less prized species, like baeri, as osetra, would be one example.
It was the repeat of a study they did from 1995 to 1998, before the Convention on International Trade listed sturgeon as endangered and began regulating trade in caviar. In the earlier study, 19 percent of the caviar on sale was found to be improperly labeled. In the more recent study, mislabeling dropped by almost half, to 10 percent, and all of it from samples bought online, not in stores. No examples labeled American sturgeon were found to have been mislabeled.
Ninety samples were purchased for each study. The scientists said their studies showed the value of tighter controls in international trade and imports by the convention and American agencies. “It’s encouraging that the extent of illegal trade has diminished in recent years since international trade restrictions have come into force,” said Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, a co-author of the study and the executive director of the institute at Stony Brook. “Consumers can now be highly confident that what’s written on the label accurately describes what’s in the tin.”
The fact that no shops were found to have improperly labeled caviar in the more recent study, compared with 24 in the earlier sampling, might be due to “a perception among retail establishments of greater scrutiny,” the report said.
Read the article on the New York Times Web site.