Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Incorrect seafood labelling by Hong Kong supermarkets leads to overpricing, WWF says

Green group’s investigation finds fish products misidentified and sold for higher prices than actual value

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 5:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 11:31pm

Two major Hong Kong supermarket chains are incorrectly labelling their frozen seafood, resulting in overpricing and the possibility of endangered species being consumed, a green group has found.

WWF-Hong Kong’s survey, which involved DNA analysis of 11 samples taken from three major supermarket groups, determined that eight samples sold at Fusion, ParknShop, International and Su-pa-de-pa under A S Watson Group engaged in incorrect labelling of their frozen fish products. One instance of problematic labelling was also identified at a supermarket under China Resources Vanguard.

Labelling shown on seafood sold at Kai Bo Food Supermarket was discovered to be accurate.

Initiating the investigation in June, WWF-Hong Kong said it had already reported the cases to the Customs and Excise Department, saying the incorrect labelling might have violated the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

According to the green group, suspicious samples were selected by a seafood expert and further examined at a University of Hong Kong laboratory.

Its findings showed a frozen product labelled as golden threadfin bream bought at a ParknShop Superstore in Sha Tin was actually a Japanese threadfin bream, which would be “considerably less expensive” – meaning the product on offer was priced at twice its actual value.

The average wholesale price of golden threadfin listed in June by the government’s Fish Marketing Organisation was HK$100 (US$12) per kilogram, while that of Japanese threadfin bream was HK$48 per kilogram.

Details displayed on seven other seafood products also proved inconsistent with the test results, all listing the wrong names of fishes.

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For example, a frozen Areolate grouper bought at a Fusion supermarket in Yuen Long was revealed in testing to be Spinycheek grouper, while a fish named Russell’s snapper purchased at a ParknShop in Mei Foo was actually a brownstripe red snapper.

WWF-Hong Kong noted these fish looked markedly different than the varieties they were purported to be, such as an advertised Russell’s snapper lacking its signature black spot. But it said it could not conclude whether the other products were also overpriced due to insufficient data.

Jovy Chan Yuet-shan, the group’s senior ocean sustainability officer, expressed disappointment in the supermarkets’ practices not long after a similar investigation. In 2016, the group found mislabelled frozen seafood at supermarket outlets operating under A S Watson and its rival Wellcome.

She said another product named “New Zealand sole” sold at China Resources Vanguard in Ngau Tau Kok was found in testing to be Striped catfish. There was no export of Striped catfish from New Zealand, she added, with most coming from Southeast Asia. After the 2016 investigation, WWF-Hong Kong launched a campaign calling on the city’s supermarkets to strengthen their seafood procurement policy and adopt environmentally responsible sales practices.

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Chan added that wild-caught catfish was listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. But the packaging did not show how it had been produced nor whether it was farmed or caught in the wild.

She warned the impact could be profound because Hong Kong is the second-largest per capita consumer of seafood in Asia.

The seafood choices we make here have a huge impact on global marine resources
Jovy Chan, WWF-Hong Kong

“About 90 per cent of our seafood is imported from more than 170 countries around the world. The seafood choices we make here have a huge impact on global marine resources.”

“As important players in the seafood market, local supermarkets can initiate and lead the change in offering correct labelling and ensure the seafood they sell comes from sustainable sources,” she added.

Chan urged the supermarkets to provide accurate and sufficient product information, including the seafood’s common and scientific names, its production method and country of origin. The idea is to better safeguard consumers from “risks inherent in mislabelling”.

A spokeswoman from China Resources Vanguard expressed concern over the test result and said the company had removed the product from its shelves in all its outlets.

“We will consult the supplier and follow up on matters of labelling. Our pre-packaged products are all based on Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations to make sure the products are in accordance with legal requirements.”

A S Watson Group said the relevant samples were sourced from the suppliers of seafood products to all major supermarkets chains in Hong Kong, and that it would follow up the matter with these suppliers.