China shark fin sellers serve up fake products complete with toxins

January 10, 2013

The already dubious shark fin industry in China is coming under new scrutiny after authorities in the province of Zhejiang claim to have found that many of the shark fins sold in markets are artificial and some also contain dangerous toxins.

Inspectors from the industry and commerce department claim to have found cadmium, a toxic metal, in several samples of shark fin soup served at up-market hotels and restaurants for as much as 1,000 yuan (USD160) a bowl, according to a report in the China Daily.

The state-run new service said that similar results were found in an investigation by the province's consumer rights protection agency, which randomly selected about 10 samples of shark fin soup collected from local restaurants for testing.

The agency says it found that about one-third of dried shark fin in the province's markets contained excessive cadmium and methyl mercury and that no actual shark was found in any of the soups. The artificial variety, also known as "vegetarian" shark fin, is made of edible gelatin and seaweed gum.

As the demand for the delicacy has increased in China over the years, particularly around the Chinese New Year period, green groups and others have raised concerns about the sustainability and welfare of sharks. Each year, about 73 million sharks are killed around the world for shark fin soup.

Many Chinese celebrities, including former NBA icon Yao Ming, have joined the campaign to protect sharks in recent years and several luxury hotels and popular restaurants have already taken the dish off the menu.