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Oceana Confirms Rampant Seafood Mislabeling in Florida
Oceana found 31 percent of seafood mislabeled in South Florida, according to a new report released today. DNA testing confirmed that nearly one-third of the 96 seafood samples collected by Oceana from 60 retail outlets, including grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues, were mislabeled based on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
“Our results suggest that South Floridians may be receiving a completely different fish than what they’re paying for,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana. “Not only does seafood fraud cheat consumers and hurt honest seafood businesses, it also puts our health at risk and undermines efforts to eat sustainably.”
Despite ongoing efforts by local and state authorities to combat seafood fraud over the past 30 years, mislabeling rates have remained between 15 to 31 percent.
Oceana’s investigation in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale-area as well as Monroe and Palm Beach counties targeted species with regional significance and those that were found to be mislabeled from previous studies, including red and yellowtail snapper, grouper, wild salmon, yellowtail and white tuna.
“Oceana’s new survey results are consistent with our own previous DNA surveys of seafood authenticity in the South Florida retail market,” said Dr. Mahmood Shivji, director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University. “It’s disappointing to see seafood substitution is still occurring at a high level given the negative, far-reaching, consequences of this unethical practice for consumers and the environment.”
Among the report’s other key findings include:
- Fraud was detected in half of the 14 different types of fish collected.
- Sushi venues had the highest proportion of mislabeled samples (58 percent).
- All of the white tuna samples from sushi venues were actually escolar, a species that can make people sick.
- Red snapper was mislabeled 86 percent of the time (six out of seven samples).
- Grouper mislabeling dropped from a high of 40 to 50 percent during the height of the fake grouper scam in the mid-2000s to 16 percent (about one in six samples) in this study.
- The most egregious fish swap was king mackerel, a high mercury fish that carries a “Do Not Eat” health warning for sensitive groups, being sold as “grouper.”
“The results are disturbing,” said Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana. “The continued mislabeling of seafood in Florida shows that inspections alone are not enough. Seafood needs to be traced from boat to plate to ensure that it is safe, legal and honestly labeled."
Oceana is finding seafood fraud everywhere it looks, revealing a nationwide problem. The seafood fraud levels uncovered in South Florida, while lower than those found recently by Oceana and others in Los Angeles (55 percent) and Boston (48 percent), remain unacceptably high.
About Seafood Fraud
Oceana launched a new campaign in May of 2011 to Stop Seafood Fraud, which can come in many different forms—from mislabeling fish and falsifying documents to adding too much ice to packaging.
In a report released last year entitled Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health, Oceana found that while 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported, only two percent is currently inspected and less than 0.001 percent specifically for fraud. In fact, recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available.
Despite growing concern about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served the wrong fish—a completely different species than the one they paid for. With about 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world now available in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect consumers to be able to independently and accurately determine what fish is really being served.
Our seafood is following an increasingly complex path from fishing vessel to processor to distributor and ultimately our plates. Seafood safety is handled by a patchwork of laws with no federal agency definitively in charge of addressing seafood fraud. Little coordination or information sharing exists within the U.S. government, and many of these laws are not being fully implemented.
Oceana is calling on the federal government to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legal and honestly labeled, including requiring a traceability system where information such as when, where and how a fish is caught follows it throughout the supply chain—from boat to plate—allowing consumers to make more informed decisions about the food they eat while keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market.
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