Behold another example of the collapse of U.S. regulatory structure: One of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world found that one-third of seafood products sold in restaurants and grocery stores across the country were mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration standards.
The Washington, D.C.-based ocean conservation group Oceana conducted DNA tests on 1,215 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states.
“The most commonly mislabeled types of fish in our study were snapper—87 percent of those were something else—and tuna—where 59 percent were something else as well,” said report author and senior Oceana scientist Dr. Kimberly Warner.
The potential for the mislabeling of foreign products is high. According to Beth Lowell, the group’s campaign director, the U.S. imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, “yet less than 1 percent is inspected specifically for seafood fraud.”
The consequences are numerous. Customers can be charged too much and exposed to fish they are allergic to or which contains high concentrations of toxins. And fishermen and suppliers of uncommon seafood who label their products honestly can lose out on a sale and see the value of their catch decline as the market swells with ersatz varieties.
Of the most commonly collected fish types, samples sold as snapper and tuna had the highest mislabeling rates (87 and 59 percent, respectively), with the majority of the samples identified by DNA analysis as something other than what was found on the label. In fact, only seven of the 120 samples of red snapper purchased nationwide were actually red snapper. The other 113 samples were another fish.
Our findings demonstrate that a comprehensive and transparent traceability system – one that tracks fish from boat to plate – must be established at the national level. At the same time, increased inspection and testing of our seafood, specifically for mislabeling, and stronger federal and state enforcement of existing laws combatting fraud are needed to reverse these disturbing trends.