By Hu Min and Zhao Wen | 2013-1-10 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
The shark fin dish on many restaurant menus costing hundreds of yuan could be a small bowl of bean vermicelli or even just gelatin.
Fan Shoulin, secretary general of the Shanghai Fisheries Trade Association, said it was likely that some restaurants were using artificial shark fin to cheat customers. But, he added, there was a decline in the demand for shark fin and that was good news.
Zhang Yusong, an official with the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau, said yesterday that an investigation into shark fin products in the city had begun. The move followed checks in neighboring Zhejiang Province which found 90 percent of samples tested were artificial.
Reporters from China Central Television had sent dishes to quality watchdogs to be checked. Most were found to be just chemicals and gelatin.
Tests showed that "shark fin powder," which is widely available in Shanghai's wholesale markets, was made up of gelatin, coloring agents and additives such as seaweed extract and calcium chloride.
Many "shark fin starch products" are also available at online shopping website Taobao.com, some as cheap as 37 yuan (US$5.96) for a 500 gram pack. Pictures on the website seemed to show an absence of production details and ingredient lists. Online sellers based in Shanghai described their products as "used exclusively by top restaurants."
Industry insiders told CCTV that about 40 percent of restaurants nationwide made excessive profits by using synthesized shark fin products. They said it was an open secret.
A pack of powder can be made into at least six bowls of shark fin soup, meaning the cost of the dish priced at hundreds of yuan on most menus is only a few yuan.
Some restaurants used seasoning to enrich the flavor of the soup and make it taste similar to real shark fin, said Zhu Yi, associate professor of China Agricultural University, but the seasoning can produce toxic substances during cooking that could damage the liver and reproductive system.
Fan said shark fin is not as popular among Shanghai's diners due to an awareness of the need to protect sharks. Instead, food producers made artificial shark fin to satisfy food lovers' taste buds, claimed Fan.
"From our observation, the shark fin business is gradually shrinking in the local seafood market. The trade volume is declining every year, though I don't have specific data." Fan said. "We are not going to save the business because it is good news that people don't like to eat shark fin."
At the Baichuan seafood market in Putuo District, officials said all artificial shark fin products were clearly labeled.