More than half of fish wrongly labelled, study shows
April 19 2012 Lewis Smith
Snapper.....or is it?
Mislabelling of fish is so extensive in Southern California that consumers have only a 50:50 chance of getting the species they order, a study has shown.
More than 55 per cent of fish bought in the Los Angeles and Orange County area are wrongly labelled and the problem is so wide-ranging that it amounts to “true economic fraud”, the conservation lobby group Oceana found.
Volunteers bought 119 samples – 45 from grocery stores, 43 from sushi restaurants and 31 from other restaurants – and used DNA testing to establish whether they were the species the label claimed. Only 45 per cent were correctly labelled.
All 34 fish bought as red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus, were shown to be different species, according to federal rules. One was correct within a more lenient definition under Californian law in which 13 species of rockfish can be described as red snapper.
In sushi restaurants 87 per cent of samples were found to be mislabelled, compared to 45 per cent in other restaurants and 31 per cent in grocery stores.
In their report the authors said: “The majority of the mislabelled fish Oceana detected in Southern California constitute true economic fraud, because a lower priced species was substituted for the desired species for economic gain.
“Examples from this study include substituting farmed Atlantic and chum salmon for wild sockeye salmon; escolar for white tuna; farmed Asian sutchi catfish for wild sole; flounder for halibut; and tilapia, seabream and pollock for red snapper.”
They added: “Our testing indicates that consumers in the area have a roughly 50/50 chance of getting the actual seafood item they were sold when purchasing certain types of fish.”
Oceana is campaigning for federal laws to be strengthened to ensure accurate labelling of seafood and for better enforcement of existing legislation. Earlier this year the group sponsored legislation introduced by California State Senator Ted W. Lieu that would require large restaurant chains to label seafood by its species name.
Geoff Shester, California program director at Oceana, said: “The extent of seafood fraud found in California should be shocking to consumers, especially those that are paying extra for seafood they think is healthier and more sustainable. If enacted, this bill would provide a powerful first step to help turn the tide on seafood fraud.”
Beth Lowell, Oceana’s campaign director, said of the mislabelling findings: “It is disheartening to know that consumers are not getting wait they pay for. Seafood fraud is not only ripping off consumers, but it is putting their health at risk and undermining their efforts to eat sustainably.”
Dr Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana, added: “Consumers are being asked to guess what they are eating. The public should be provided with more information about the food they are purchasing. With such high levels of mislabeling, it is more important than ever for the government to increase inspections and require traceability of our seafood.”
The research in Southern California followed a similar exercise in Boston last year in which a fifth of fish fillets sold in supermarkets were found to be wrongly labelled. Earlier in 2011 in the Bait and Switch Report, Oceana highlighted how much mislabelling of fish costs consumers.
The US imports 84 per cent of its seafood but only 2 per cent is inspected by the authorities. There are 1,700 species of seafood on sale in the US.
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