Name: Johan Robbens
Institute: ILVO- Flemish Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Belgium)
Education: PhD in Molecular Biology/Biotechnology; Master of Business Administration
Current position / role: Head of Blue Biotech & Food Integrity at ILVO and leader of SEAFOODTOMORROW WP5.
What are the main challenges addressed by Work Package 5, and what are your main goals?
The main challenge is working on solutions that eventually will guarantee that a consumer in Europe is getting the fish they paid for. Too often still, the fish species a consumer chooses is not the species they are actually eating! SEAFOODTOMORROW is addressing this issue and investigating what happens on the journey from ‘fish to fork’. Our goal is to be able to track this route via a QR-based system, and to develop a benchmark for producers who will be awarded with a SEAFOODTOMORROW quality label when that mark is met.
Why is seafood authentication so important?
It has recently become clear that fish species substitution or fraud is an omnipresent problem and consumers are sensitive to this. Expensive fish are often replaced by cheaper species in restaurants, markets, etc. This is a global problem, and here in Europe we want to counteract this. This substitution is done for economic reasons, but for consumers it also has health implications.
What has been achieved in WP5 so far?
We have established a DNA reference database which is very useful to support authentication, and we have validated this database with a case study in Belgium for two fish species: sole and cod. From our research activities we could see that fraudulent substitution is unfortunately indeed an issue, and is happening throughout the entire fish supply chain. You can read more about this in the recent publication by Dumas Deconinck et al.
We’ve also set up a QR code-based traceability system. This is now in full development and is being validated in some seafood companies. The final part of our work is to set up and design a benchmark and SEAFOODTOMORROW quality label. This is actually the ultimate goal which encompasses all aspects of good ‘food quality’.
How is seafood currently traced in Europe?
Consumers obtain information on the fish they eat from the packaging label, but this information is often limited and scarce, usually only including the species name and area of catch or culture. And, owner controls are limited or not possible. The method we develop and implement within SEAFOODTOMORROW could be a real breakthrough, providing information and seafood tracing in Europe, providing major benefits for the seafood sector.
How can seafood producers and processors be awarded a SEAFOODTOMORROW product quality label?
The label is a real mark of quality, guaranteeing the authenticity of the product, as well as other beneficial features that have been determined within SEAFOODTOMORROW. Producers that comply with these principles can be awarded a label.
What long-term impact do you think the work from WP5 will make on the seafood industry in Europe?
Within SEAFOODTOMORROW, we want to guarantee quality from fish to fork for the consumer, and we believe we will add credibility to the sector, garnering consumer trust.
Who are the results most important for and how are the results applicable to these people?
In general, it is the public and society that will profit the most, as consumers can more confidently buy and eat reliable and healthy products. This is also the ultimate goal of the project! Industry stakeholders that follow the SEAFOODTOMORROW philosophy will also profit as it is expected that their products will be favoured and sold at a premium.
Amazing work! Thank you very much for taking the time to tell us about seafood authentication, traceability and the importance of certification for all.