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Food Fraud Fighters

January 18, 2010

Two high school students expose food-labeling fraud using a simple DNA technique.


Exposing food fraud…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you’re in the habit of buying gourmet food products, you might want to think twice about what they really contain. High school students Matt Cost and Brenda Tan recently tested the DNA of food items in their cupboards and at local supermarkets in New York City. With help from researchers at Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History, they determined that 11 out of 66 products were mislabeled.

BRENDA TAN (Trinity School):
The real first surprise was when we tested sheep’s milk cheese. It actually just contained cow DNA. A delicacy that was labeled as dried shark was actually Nile perch, which is a much cheaper fish. We tested dog treats, too, it was labeled as venison, but it was actually just beef.

Tan says regulatory agencies like the FDA should consider using the method to protect consumers from food fraud. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.