US consumers misled about labeling on seafood

After the horsemeat scandal in the UK, in which horse DNA was found in products labeled up as beef, the US is now facing a similar crisis, as reports are emerging that seafood products have also been mislabeled. The international ocean advocacy group Oceana has released a study in which they say there is fraud regarding the labeling of seafood, and worryingly, it is on a national level.

Oceana state that in their report, which is one of the largest to be conducted on seafood to date, one-third of seafood was found to be mislabeled. The group performed DNA testing from 2010 to 2012 on 1,215 fish samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. Oceana stated that they found seafood fraud everywhere it tested, with rates hitting as high as 52 percent in Southern California.

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The statistics are particularly worrying as the US is the second largest seafood-consuming country worldwide, after China, and they import more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed. Under present laws, less than 1 percent is tested specifically for fraud.

The fish that had the highest counts of fraudulent mislabeling were red snapper and tuna at 87 and 59 percent, respectively. Oceana tested 46 fish types and 27 were found to be mislabeled; this equates to 59 percent in real terms. Only seven of the 120 red snapper samples were actually red snapper.

And sushi restaurants appeared to have a particularly low standard when it came to labeling seafood, as the report found that 74 percent of seafood had been mislabeled. In non sushi restaurants the percentage was recorded at 38 percent, and at grocery stores it came out at 18 percent.

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The senior scientist and author of the report for Oceana – a Dr. Kimberley Warner said, in an interview with the Huffington Post: “Some of the fish substitutions we found are just disturbing. Apart from being cheated, many consumers are being denied the right to choose fish wisely based on health or conservation concerns.”

This was particularly true with regards to white tuna samples, which were found to actually be a fish called escolar, a type of fish that can, in some individuals, cause problems with digestion. Oceana also found that overfished and vulnerable species were substituted for what are commonly known as more sustainable choices. For example, they found that Atlantic halibut was sold as Pacific halibut, and speckled hind sold as red grouper.

Red Snapper: Picture BBC

Red Snapper: Picture BBC

The report has galvanised some people however into action, as a group of some 500 chefs, including prominent seafood chefs Eric Ripert and Barton Seaver, have decided to try and put a stop to this fraudulent activity. So far they have petitioned the government, and last year, the Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act was introduced, though it has not been enacted.

It seems that US consumers of seafood are facing a similar dilemma to UK consumers of beef products. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency are trying to get to grips with the scale of the horsemeat scandal, but in the meantime, many consumers have publicly stated that until they get some kind of reassurance that what they buy is exactly what is on the label, they would rather go without.

The question of why food is being mislabeled in the US and the UK has still not been properly addressed, however, and until it has been, consumers are left with diminishing choices of what food to eat.

Source: Huffington Post USA