x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE supermarkets selling cheap fish labelled as hammour

Supermarkets and restaurants across the UAE are breaching food labelling laws, officials say.

The Beiutna restaurant in Dubai admitted to selling cream dory instead of hammour.
The Beiutna restaurant in Dubai admitted to selling cream dory instead of hammour.

DUBAI // Supermarkets and restaurants across the UAE are breaching food labelling laws by selling cheap fish and labelling it as hammour, municipality officials say.

Outlets also are bulking up frozen fish with ice to boost its weight, the officials said.

“The product has to match the label,” said Bashir Yousef, a Dubai Municipality food-safety expert. “If not, it is illegal because the product name should indicate what is in the food and what it’s all about.”

In June this year, a shopper realised that the kilogram of frozen hammour he bought from a Dubai supermarket was nothing of the sort.

Not only did his fish weigh in at only 500 grams, but the species was Pangasius, a type of catfish imported from Vietnam that costs a fifth of the price of hammour.

On a visit to food outlets in Dubai, J?V, a fish expert and manager of a seafood-processing company, found many outlets were flouting the law.

The Fish & Chips Room in Dubai Marina offered“battered hammour” and chips. J?V said the fish was the much cheaper Nile perch.

“The fish is in batter so you can’t see much, but once opened you can see its flakes breaking up easily,” he said. “Hammour has stronger flakes.”

After tasting the fish J?V said: “This is definitely Nile perch. The colour is supposed to be more pinkish red, whereas this is white.”

The price displayed for 200 grams was Dh38 – too low for hammour.

“There’s no way this is hammour,” J?V said. “The price should be higher because what’s displayed here is the price of the raw material hammour.”

Hammour usually costs about Dh50 a kilo in supermarkets, while cheaper species can be as little as Dh10 a kilo.

But the manager of the Fish & Chips Room insisted it was hammour.

“It is actually hammour locally bought,” said Joseph Gerreyn. “It’s labelled hammour when I buy it from my supplier, I’m 100 per cent sure.”

But others admitted to switching species. At the Lebanese restaurant Beiutna, 180 grams of a “hammour fillet” meal with chips cost Dh60.

Again, he said, the fish was not hammour.

“It’s too long to be hammour,” said JV. “The texture is too soft and the colour is too white. It even has a different taste. This is cream dory, which should cost Dh25.”

The manager, Hashem Jaramani, admitted it was cream dory.

“All restaurants do this because you cannot always get hammour on the market,” Mr Jaramani said. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years. If I write cream dory on the menu, Arabic people won’t understand what it is.”

Mr Jaramani offered a refund, but Mr Yousef, of the municipality, said that was not good enough.

“If a customer wants to buy hammour, he will pay premium money for it, so it’s obviously illegal to mislabel it,” he said. “You are cheating the customer if there is any discrepancy in the ingredient list.”

Mr Yousef said consumers who encountered any mislabelling of food should complain to the municipality or the Department of Economic Development.

“Fish usually needs to be verified but if it’s the case, we will take action against the establishment,” he said. “It’s the basic right of the consumer to complain of the very nature of the product and sometimes, people have something that they can’t [discern].”

He said the municipality would fine any food outlet found to be responsible for mislabelling a product.

“But we would have to run further investigations to find out if the violation was intentional or not,” Mr Yousef said.

He said that if the owner was found to be fraudulently selling a product, the outlet could be closed down or the owner could be taken to court.

To complain about food mislabelling, consumers can call the Dubai Municipality on 800900.

cmalek@thenational.ae