Checking Nutrition Labels Might Not Mean Much

Two high school students make a startling discovery

Monday, Dec 28, 2009  |  Updated 3:09 PM EDT
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Checking Nutrition Labels Might Not Mean Much

Yamini Chao

Shoplifter choses wrong getaway car.

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High school students analyzing food products found in their own kitchens discovered that one-sixth had been mislabeled, according to a DNA study released Monday.
    
Out of 66 foods tested by Trinity School seniors Brenda Tan and Matthew Cost, 11 had labels listing ingredients that had been replaced, usually with cheaper or less desirable options.

     The pair found that a specialty "sheep's milk" cheese was actually made with cow's milk, and caviar labeled as "sturgeon" was actually Mississippi paddlefish. Similarly, "venison" dog treats turned out to be made from beef, and a delicacy labeled "dried shark" was actually an inexpensive freshwater fish from Africa, Nile perch.
    
The results suggest the foods may be deliberately mislabeled for financial gain, the students said, although they did not release the exact products or retailers involved.
    
The "DNAHouse" study comes a year after another pair of Trinity students found that one-fourth of fish samples they collected around New York were incorrectly labeled as higher-priced fish.
    
In this year's study, the students -- aided by experts at the Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History -- tracked the genetic material from 151 DNA samples taken from their everyday surroundings. The samples were from 95 species, including a Jumbo flying squid and an Oriental latrine fly.
    
After gathering the samples, the students sent them off to the museum for DNA barcoding analysis. The museum reported back with a sequence taken from a standard "barcode" region of the DNA. The students pasted the sequence into an online search engine to find out what species the DNA came from.

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