Chip shop shock: that's not cod!

Are chip shops palming customers off with cheaper fish labelled as cod?

Fish and Chips

Consumer experts at Which? have claimed that fish and chip shops are palming customers off with cheaper fish - labelled as cod or haddock. In their tests, almost one in six were not labelled correctly.

Which? ordered 45 portions of cod or haddock from different chip shops in Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham. They then tested samples of each to check whether the shops were being entirely honest about their fish, and found that one in seven of the samples were not what they purported to be.

Glasgow was the worst offender - where five of the 15 portions of haddock they tested were actually whiting. Two of the 15 samples from Manchester were labelled as cod but were actually haddock.

Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, told Which?: "It has been known for quite some time fish fraud is very common and species substitution is always high on the list of causes."

The good news is that the government is taking some steps on this front. Elliott recently conducted a review into this issue, and they have committed themselves to setting up a Food Crime Unit within the Food Standards Agency, as well as establishing a network of food testing labs.

Why substitute anyway?
There are three reasons why substitution is rife. The first is that fresh fish has got more expensive: in January haddock prices were up 50%. Fish and chips are considered a cost-effective takeaway option, so many retailers are under pressure to keep prices as low as possible. The temptation to sell a cheaper alternative with the wrong label must have been too much for some to resist.

The second factor at work is that that a number of fish are relatively similar in taste: whiting, for example, tastes very similar to haddock, but tends to be cheaper. If a takeaway can buy a cheaper fish and pass it off as a more expensive one, without people noticing, it must have persuaded a few to try their luck.

These factors may account for the substitution, but not for the fact that takeaways weren't open about it. The underhand approach may be explained by the fact that when it comes to fish, consumers are notoriously blinkered: we are happy to accept cod or haddock, but there's a great deal of resistance to eating other kinds of fish. If chip shops had decided to substitute and be honest about the change, there's a good chance that many of their customers would have voted with their feet.

You could argue that we have no-one to blame for this food fraud but ourselves. But what do you think?

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