‘Seafood Fraud’ Fueled by Weak Regulation, Industry Deceit, Probe Finds

Seafood fraud — the mislabeling of fish sold in supermarkets and restaurants — has been identified by various researchers as a rampant problem.

But a story by The Boston Globe, part of a special report not-too-surprisingly called “Fishy Business,” dives into many of the reasons.

It reports that lax government oversight, industry indifference and outright deceit, a long supply chain and consumer ignorance allow lower-quality, less expensive fish to be mislabeled and sold as pricier species.

DNA testing performed for the Globe, which conducted a five-month investigation, revealed that nearly half of 183 fish samples collected at restaurants and supermarkets in the Boston area were not the species ordered. For example, tilapia stood in for red snapper, and farmed hybrid bass was identified as wild striped bass.

Some suppliers implicitly or overtly encourage seafood misrepresentation, according to restaurateurs and their employees. One of the tactics involves using different names in invoices for one species of fish. The story cited suppliers that sometimes described escolar, which can cause digestion problems, as white tuna or albacore – more palatable and pricier fish.

Regulatory loopholes, meanwhile, let the mislabeling persist. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has primary responsibility for ensuring that fish is safe, sanitary and properly labeled. Although growing concern over mislabeling has prompted FDA officials to develop a pilot program that will use new DNA technology to identify fish, the agency has not made seafood labeling a priority.

Two other agencies share responsibility for detecting and preventing seafood fraud – U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the National Marine Fisheries Service – but there is little collaboration between them and the FDA, the Government Accountability Office has found.

In contrast, federal responsibility for the monitoring of the meat and poultry industries is solely the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency has more inspectors than the FDA, 8,000 versus 1,100, and fewer processing plants to check, 6,200 versus 167,000.

The FDA also falls short in checking the safety of imports, which often come from China and Thailand and account for more than 80 percent of all seafood eaten in the U.S. As FairWarning reported in July, tons of that fish is laced with chemicals banned from the U.S. food supply, including carcinogens. But state officials say the tainted imported fish nevertheless is winding up on American dinner plates.

STUART SILVERSTEIN

Related Posts:
Weak State Surveillance Lets Food Contamination Outbreaks Spread
Regulators Fail to Keep Tabs on Recalls of Imported Foods, Audit Finds
Holy Mackerel! Researchers Say Vendors Lie About the Fish We Eat

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