It is difficult to determine the level where fraud occurs, researchers conclude. (Photo: StockFile)
One-third of seafood mislabelled in the US: widespread study
Friday, February 22, 2013, 01:40 (GMT + 9)
Oceana has conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world to date and reveals widespread seafood fraud across the US.
A new report describes how DNA testing confirmed that 33 per cent of the 1,215 fish samples gathered and tested by Oceana from 674 retail outlets in 21 states between 2010-12 were mislabelled, according to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
Genetic testing determined, for example, mislabelling rates of 52 per cent in Southern California, 49 per cent in Austin and Houston, 48 per cent in Boston (where testing was also done by The Boston Globe), 39 per cent in New York City, 38 per cent in Northern California and South Florida, 36 per cent in Denver, 35 per cent in Kansas City, 32 per cent in Chicago, 26 per cent in Washington, DC, 21 per cent in Portland, Oregon and 18 per cent in Seattle. Pennsylvania was the worst state, with 56 per cent of fish mislabelled.
"Seafood fraud harms not only the consumer's pocket book, but also every honest vendor or fisherman along the supply chain," wrote the report's authors, Kimberly Warner, Walker Timme, Beth Lowell and Michael Hirshfield, San Francisco Chronicle reports. "These fraudulent practices also carry potentially serious concerns for the health of consumers, and for the health of our oceans and vulnerable fish populations."
The fish targeted ran the gamut of those with regional significance to those found to be frequently mislabelled in previous studies such as red snapper, cod, tuna and wild salmon.
Of the most commonly collected types of fish, snapper and tuna had the most outrageous mislabelling rates at 87 and 59 per cent, respectively, across the country. Retail outlets mislabelled 44 per cent of their fish, sushi venues a mind-boggling 74 per cent, other restaurants 38 per cent and grocery stores 18 per cent.
“Some of the fish substitutions we found are just disturbing,” Warner commented. “Apart from being cheated, many consumers are being denied the right to choose fish wisely based on health or conservations concerns.”
Among the report’s other key findings include:
- Mislabelling in 27 of the 46 fish species tested (59 per cent).
- Only seven of the 120 red snapper samples collected were really red snapper.
- Between one-fifth to more than one-third of the halibut, grouper, cod and Chilean seabass samples were mislabelled.
- 84 per cent of the white tuna samples were actually escolar, a species that can cause serious digestive issues.
- Cheaper farmed fish sold as wild fish: pangasius sold as grouper, sole and cod; tilapia sold as red snapper; and Atlantic farmed salmon sold as wild or king salmon.
- Overfished and vulnerable species were substituted for more sustainable ones: Atlantic halibut sold as Pacific halibut and speckled hind sold as red grouper.
"It is difficult to determine if fraud is occurring at the boat, during processing, at the wholesale level, at the retail counter or somewhere else along the way," the authors concluded.
No nationwide system exists to monitor seafood fraud.
- Oceana, restaurant industry demand an end to seafood fraud
- New seafood fraud bill would step up traceability
By Natalia Real