Last month I wrote a blog on genetically modified salmon: the pros, the cons, and what the FDA is considering doing in regard to the approval of selling it. While genetically modified food is an important topic it pales in comparison to a recent study conducted by Oceana regarding mislabeling of fish.
The study found that fish are being mislabeled on a broad scale. From the grocery store to the sushi counter across the United States these label swaps are happening in shockingly high numbers. While it’s unclear if the mislabeling is happening at the wholesale or retail level or the fishing docks, what is clear is that it is happening eveywhere. The study tested 1,215 fish samples in 21 states. The result, one-third of the seafood tested was mislabeled.
According to the study, Southern California suffers the highest percentage of mislabeling at 52 percent with New York City close behind at 39 percent, Northern California at 38 percent, 32 percent in Chicago and 26 percent in Washington, D.C. among other cities. Seattle and Boston were tied for having the lowest percentages of deception, though one in five fish samples were mislabeled. Nationwide, grocery stores were the most honest with labeling and sushi restaurants mislabeled fish 74 percent of the time.
This is particularly troublesome considering that many people rely on fish as a healthy protein source. Pregnant women and children are vulnerable to high mercury content and are potentially being sold fish that could have negative health impacts. Also, this lack of transparency is just one of many occurring over the last several years when it comes to food. From labeling farmed salmon as wild and mislabeling different varieties of fish, tilefish in the place of halibut and red snapper as the study details, it seems that the seafood market needs to be more heavily scrutinized. The FDA inspects less than one percent of the ninety percent of seafood that is annually imported to the U.S. meaning there is little enforcement of the laws protecting consumers.
In addition to health issues fish mislabeling also makes it difficult for consumers to make environmentally responsible choices. If seeking to avoid buying certain varieties of fish that are being overfished from the seas, mislabeling makes this task much more difficult. Even more importantly the consumer is unaware of what to do when they cannot trust in a market where there is such rampant mislabeling.
So what can you do in a market of mistrust? First, be sure to ask where and how your seafood was caught. Your local grocer or perhaps even better your farmers market vendor should have information about the products. Next, be careful of fish that seems cheaper than it should be as it is likely too good to be true. Lastly, when possible, buy fish whole as it is easier to identify a fish when it is whole. Another very important way to regain transparency is to use your voice. Contact your local representatives and put pressure on them to enforce laws already in place to protect the consumer.
For a video by the NY Times on this shocking discovery click here.