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Is Seafood Fraud Passing Under the Net?

25 February 2013

US - As an investigation by Oceana revealed that a third of seafood sampled in the United States is mislabeled, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reiterated its commitment to tackling seafood fraud, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.

An investigation conducted by Oceana from 2010 to 2012, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. Seafood fraud is economically wrong, harms the health of Oceans, cheats honest vendors aand fishermen and can potentially be a health risk to consumers.

DNA testing found that one-third (33 per cent) of the 1,215 samples analysed nationwide were mislabeled, according to FDA guidelines.

Oceana identified of that the most commonly collected fish types, samples sold as snapper and tuna had the highest mislabeling rates (87 and 59 per cent, respectively), with the majority of the samples identified by DNA analysis as something other than what was found on the label. In fact, only seven of the 120 samples of red snapper purchased nationwide were actually red snapper. The other 113 samples were another fish.

The report also identified that 44 per cent of all the retail outlets visited sold mislabeled fish.

The findings raise the question of how much incorrectly labelled seafood is passing under the radar, despite the FDA's current screening proceedures, and what more can be done to prevent seafood fraud? 

With 90 per cent of US seafoos imported,  the FDA currently screens all seafood imports electronically and physically inspects a selection.

The FDA told TheFishSite that species substitution has been an area of concern for some time.

Theresa Eisenman, from the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said: "While seafood fraud is often an economic issue, species substitution can be a public health risk. As a result of these concerns, the FDA has recently invested in significant technical improvements to enhance its ability to identify seafood species using state of the art DNA sequencing."

DNA sequencing has improved the way that the FDA identifies misbranded seafood products in interstate commerce or offered for import into the United States.

"The agency has expanded its capacity for DNA sequencing to nine regional field laboratories and trained new analysts from United States Customs and Border Protection and NOAA Fisheries in its new DNA-based species identification methodology," Ms Eisenman said.

"The FDA is also working towards implementing better-targeted and more efficient sampling strategies to identify seafood misbranding and adulteration. In addition to multiple cases of sampling due to a specific suspicion of misbranding or adulteration, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, the FDA conducted surveillance sampling for species substitution at wholesale distributers, gathering approximately 800 individual filets from approximately 100 different lots of fish to verify the accuracy of the labeling utilizing the new DNA testing capabilities."

Ms Eisenman noted that once the FDA had finished compiling the results, the department will have a better idea of where to conduct future sampling and enforcement efforts.

The FDA is recommending that consumers buy from reputable dealers; be wary about unusually low prices for products they know generally cost more; ask questions about the product and use their own experience with the look, taste and texture of fish as a guide.

The FDA's Seafood List to help determine the acceptable market names for fish is also available.


Further Reading

You can view the full Oceana report by clicking here.


Lucy Towers

Lucy Towers
News Team - Editor

After graduating from The University of Sheffield, Lucy joined 5M in 2011 as part of the News Desk team. In 2012, she was promoted to editor of TheFishSite. With previous farming experience and a love for the great outdoors, Lucy has a passion for wildlife and the environment.

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