Oceana Reveals Farmed Shrimp 'Gulf Caught' Fraud Widespread Across U.S.

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A new report released by Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation, discovered that shrimp and shrimp products are widely mislabeled in the marketplace with farmed shrimp being sold as “Gulf caught” or being sold as other species altogether.

Oceana’s researchers tested shrimp samples from 111 venues including restaurants and supermarkets, finding the largest discrepancy in New York City, where 43 percent of samples were improperly labeled. Washington, D.C. and the Gulf Coast also had high levels of mislabeling—30 percent.

Much of the mislabeling came as a result of farmed shrimp being sold as wild caught, “especially as wild-caught from the Gulf,” reports National Geographic.

But the mislabeling doesn’t stop there. “Oddly, [Oceana's report] also found some unknown shrimp species, or at least species that weren't usually considered fit for human consumption,” reports National Geographic. “Of the 20 species the Oceana team identified, eight were not previously known to be on the market for consumption. These included coral 'cleaner' shrimp that pick parasites off reefs and are popular in the aquarium trade.”

There are big differences between farmed shrimp and wild caught shrimp, reports National Geographic. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a trusted resource on sustainability and health of fish and seafood species, wild caught shrimp is among the “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” options for sustainability considerations. “The situation is different for farmed shrimp, however,” explains National Geographic. “Most foreign farmed shrimp is on Monterey Bay Aquarium's ‘Avoid’ list because of concerns about habitat destruction, overfishing of other organisms to serve as feed, waste pollution, spread of diseases, and overuse of chemical treatments. Some shrimp farmers in Thailand have even been linked to human trafficking.”

Farmed shrimp is sourced from close to 400,000 producers around the world, with most of the U.S. imports coming from Asian farmers. Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood—approximately 3.8 pounds per capita.

Now, the Obama administration is expected to propose new rules on seafood by the end of 2014. According to National Geographic, the FDA has also released a report on DNA analysis of 700 seafood samples (including shrimp), which found 15 percent of all seafood was mislabeled.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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