Dry shark fin on sale at a store in Jingshen seafood market in Fengtai district Wednesday. Photo: Li Hao/GT
Fengtai Administration of Industry and Commerce launched an investigation Wednesday into shark fins after media reports that fake shark fins were being sold in seafood markets.
However, as opposed to many fake food scandals in China, experts have said the fake fins could be healthier for humans, while animal rights activists have welcomed the duplicity.
An anonymous media officer from Fengtai Administration of Industry and Commerce told the Global Times that they have investigated all the seafood markets in the district.
"We have collected enough samples and right now they are being examined. Details of the investigation will be published soon," he said.
A China Central Television news exposé Tuesday accused Jingshen Market, a seafood market in Fengtai district of selling fake shark fins, quoting a female merchant who said a bag of fake fins only cost around tens of yuan.
The program alleged that restaurants and hotels are selling the fake fins to customers under the guise of the real thing, but still at premium prices.
Vendors at the market Wednesday refused to say how much the fins cost, but online shopping site Taobao sells bags of fake fins for 40 yuan ($6).
However, real shark fins are much more expensive, as another vendor, surnamed Ye, said the price of real shark fins varies from 1,400 to 6,000 yuan per kilogram.
In restaurants the price can be even higher. Staff from Baoyu Wangzi, a restaurant famed for its shark fin dishes in Xicheng district, said on its menu, 100 grams of its cheapest fins is priced at 500 yuan. A staff member assured their fins were the real deal.
Fake shark fin does more damage to the wallet rather than the human body, as Gao Xin, professor of aquatic products from the Ocean University of China told the Global Times.
"The sharp distinction in prices is the major impulse for people to make and sell fake shark fins. Fake shark fins are usually made with gelatin and algin, which are common and cheap materials. In contrast, every 10-kilograms of fresh fin shrinks to less than one kilogram after peeling the skin off and drying. Not to mention it's getting more and more difficult to fish shark these days," said Gao.
"The contents of real shark fins and fake ones made with gelatin are almost the same, and the textures are also the same. Also they will do no harm to humans if they are made with food standard gelatin and algin," said Gao.
Gu Zhongyi, a clinical nutritionist at Beijing Friendship Hospital backed up Gao's assertion, adding that real shark fins are not nutritious at all.
"The major content of shark fin is collagen, a kind of protein which is not needed by the human body. A bowl of shark fin soup is no more nutritious than an egg," he said.
Gu also added that because sharks are at the top of the ocean's food chain, heavy metals like mercury from other species would inevitably collect in sharks' bodies, including fins.
"In this way, eating fins is just poisoning yourself," he said.
Environmentalists see the fake fins as a chance to save lives. Wang Xue, director of NGO Green Beagle's anti-shark fin program told the Global Times she thinks this is a good way to replace real shark fins.
"Fishing sharks for fins is cruel and against nature, so I see no reason to be against these 'fins' as long as they are produced under supervision and customers are informed about it on the menu," said Wang.
Beijing is China's biggest shark fin market, and at least 100 million yuan is spent on its consumption daily.
In some luxury hotels a small bowl of shark fin soup can cost 1,800 yuan, and animal rights activists and celebrities, such as Yao Ming, have recently stepped up efforts to campaign against shark finning.
However, just last week over 30,000 freshly cut mako shark fins were found drying on top of a Hong Kong apartment block. Conservationists have estimated that one-third of all shark species face extinction, the South China Morning Post reported on January 4.
Most shark fin processing has already moved to the Chinese mainland, the report said.