Seafood fraud study by Oceana reveals widespread mislabeling nationwide

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Last week’s European meat scandal was about prepared frozen meals labeled as containing beef when it really was horse. But no need to go as far as Europe to find cases of… let’s call it mislabeling. A big seafood study just out shows how, in the US, whether at the restaurant or grocery-shopping, you may not be eating what you thought you ordered, or bought. The US is the 2nd largest seafood-consuming country worldwide after China. More than 90% of the seafood consumed is imported, with less than 1%  tested for fraud. Oceana, an international ocean advocacy group, has released their report on national seafood fraud. The group performed DNA testing from 2010 to 2012 on 1,215 fish samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. Seafood fraud was found everywhere it was tested.Ready for this? 33% of fish was mislabeled, with most mislabeling happening in following cities:
  • 52% in Southern California
  • 49% in Austin/Houston
  • 39% in New York City
  • 38% in Northern California and Miami
  • Seattle and Boston are at the bottom of the list with “only” 18% of mislabeling
A few scary numbers:

  • Highest US mislabeling species: red snapper (87%) and tuna (59%); yay for salmon (among Top 3 fish consumed in the US), only 7% mislabeled
  • 59% (or 27) of the 46 fish types tested were mislabeled
  • Only 7 of the 120 red snapper samples were actually red snapper
  • Mislabeling ranking per outlet: sushi restaurants (74%), then non-sushi restaurants (38%), and grocery stores (18%)
Apart from being cheated, many consumers are being denied the right to choose fish wisely based on concerns related to:
  • Health: e.g.: 84% of white tuna were escobar, a species known to cause digestive issues
  • Conservation: some overfished and vulnerable species were substituted for what are commonly known as more sustainable choices
This is not the first fraud report (Oceana itself had a prior study that found that one-quarter to one-third of seafood was mislabeled). They all have similar statistics… Now what?
Credit photo: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer (Seafood counter at Whole Foods Market in Hillsboro, Ore., Sept. 10, 2010)

La Vie En Green, food stamp

* Up for some thought-sharing on this topic?  
-We keep hearing that we should include more seafood in our diet: it is healthier than other forms of animal protein, better for the environment, more cost effective to produce… OK, but it would be nice to actually eat what we buy. We do not know when/where the fraud is happening and from boat to plate, there are many places it can occur: during shipping, processing, in grocery stores and restaurants or anywhere in between on the seafood supply chain.
-Since these reports, a group of 500 chefs, including prominent seafood chefs Eric Ripert and Barton Seaver, have united to take action. They petitioned the government, and last year, the Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act was introduced, though it has not been enacted.


. Is it realistic to ask for  increased DNA testing? Should we be asking more questions to seafood purveyors? Put the responsibility on retailers for what we buy form them? Ask for a dedicated agency randomly testing restaurants and retailers?

. Knowing the results of this report, are you going to eat less seafood? Not that eating meat is safe, or even just safer.

Let us know… 


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