Fraudulent fish labels causing an ocean of commotion

A New York Times article last week revealed that researchers are finding widespread fraudulent labeling of seafood in supermarkets and on restaurant menus.

Studies conducted throughout North America and Europe are using a new scientific technique to detect whether or not the fish is what it claims to be, and the discoveries are startling, as NY Times writer, Elisabeth Rosenthal writes, “Yellowtail stands in for mahi-mahi. Nile perch is labeled as shark, and tilapia may be the Meryl Streep of seafood, capable of playing almost any role.”

As much as 20 to 25 percent of the seafood items tested were wrongly labeled, causing outrage amongst foodies, environmentalists and the scientific community, citing a lack of regulations in an industry already wrought with criticisms and complaints about self-regulated claims such as sustainable fish.

Oceana, a nonprofit group just released a report on the issue, ” Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health.” According to the Times article, some species are fraudulently labeled 70 percent of the time, leading Oceana and other concerned groups to petition the FDA to increase its focus on this serious issue, said chief scientist of the nonprofit group Oceana, Michael Hirshfield, “Customers buying fish have a right to know what the heck it is and where it’s from, but agencies like the FDA are not taking this as seriously as they should.” Environmentalists suggest the fraudulent labels may be contributing to the decline of certain fish species. In one case, a lab discovered endangered shark meat being misrepresented and sold to consumers.

A spokesman for the FDA told the Times that the agency has purchased gene sequencing equipment for five field laboratories and will be working with scientists to have it in regular use by the end of the year to validate DNA testing of fish. “DNA bar coding” looks at gene sequences in the fish to determine its identity, regardless of what the label says.

Organizations such as Gulf Wild are using an innovative state-of-the-art tagging system, which allows consumers to track the origins of their fish all the way back to the person who caught it.

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Photo: qgil