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Americans are preoccupied with what they put in their gut — and some are willing to pay high dollar to get just the right caviar or cheese. But what if the “sheep’s milk” cheese comes from a cow? Or if the jar of “Sturgeon caviar” comes from some kind of fish in a Mississippi pond? The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton writes today about “food fraud” and how the Food and Drug Administration is under pressure (from honest producers more than anybody else) to crack down on cheats. 

Layton quotes an academic who figures that up to 7% of the nation’s food is sold under false pretenses. “It’s growing very rapidly, and there’s more of it than you might think,” said James Morehouse, a senior partner at A.T. Kearney Inc., which is studying the issue for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the food and beverage industry. The stories are amazing: Gallo selling millions of bottles of Pinot Noir wine that really came from a mishmash of other kinds of grapes. The National Seafood Inspection Laboratory has sampled seafood, finding that a third of the fish sold between ’88 and ’97 was mislabled. The folks at the University of North Carolina figure that 77 percent of the snapper sold in the U.S. isn’t snapper at all (above).

The FDA now has DNA tests it can use to identify foods, but it only inspects 2 percent of the fish imported to the U.S. The agency is having a hard enough time finding spoiled food, much less Russian caviar than really comes from Dixie.

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