The Irish media's coverage of the fish mislabelling scandal in 2010 contributed to ending the practice of cod mislabelling in supermarkets but not in takeaways, a study has found.
Four years ago a genetic study, the first study of its kind in Ireland, uncovered the widespread mislabelling of cod in Dublin's supermarkets and takeaways, finding that 28% of the products belonged to a different species of fish.
All nine of Ireland's national daily newspapers, two national radio programmes and one national TV news broadcast covered the study findings. International media including the Guardian in the UK also reported the findings.
In 2011, Professor Stefano Mariani of the University of Salford, who co-authored the original research while he was at University College Dublin, investigated the effect of the media scrutiny with colleagues from University College Dublin and the University of British Colombia, revisiting the same Dublin shops to genetically test products labelled as cod.
In a study published today in the journal Conservation Letters, the researchers found that the practice of mislabelling had been completely eradicated in the surveyed supermarkets. However, they found that mislabelling was still rife in the takeaway industry, where 41.7% of fish was still mislabelled as cod (compared to 50% in 2010).
Professor Mariani said: "The timeline of events suggests that the media coverage highlighting the findings of the first cod mislabelling study put the large supermarkets under intense scrutiny, which acted as a positive catalyst for change."
"This hasn't happened to the same degree in the takeaway industry, probably due to the less systematic custom and the convenient nature of the food. Supermarket chains constantly compete to attract and maintain a faithful custom, and their size and financial power may allow them to exert greater control over the supply chain."
"Despite the impact of media coverage in this instance, it remains necessary that the authorities commit to adequate effective enforcement, in order to eradicate illegal practices in the sector."
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Mariani, S., Ellis, J., O'Reilly, A., Bréchon, A. L., Sacchi, C. and Miller, D. D. (2014), "Mass media influence and the regulation of illegal practices in the seafood market." Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12085