I recently read this article on Seriouseats about Seafood fraud and I think it an important issue that more people should be aware of.
So here is my attempt at a TL:DR:
Nonprofit conservation group Oceana recently published its latest Seafood Fraud Study. Highlights from the study include:
- 1/5 of more than 25k samples of tested worldwide were mislabeled
- Seafood mislabeling found throughout the seafood supply chain
- Cheaper species sold as more expensive ones
From previous Ocean studies:
This percentage rises dramatically when it comes to restaurants serving expensive species of fish—in past Oceana studies in this country, restaurant red snapper and certain tuna in sushi restaurants were found to be bogus more than 90% of the time, while farmed salmon was passed off as pricier “wild-caught” two-thirds of the time.
Everywhere seafood is tested, fraud has been found:
- Boston (48 percent mislabeled),
- Los Angeles (55 percent mislabeled)
- Miami (31 percent mislabeled)
In 2012, Oceana also investigated seafood mislabeling in the New York City area as part of its Campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud. Despite frequent reporting on the issue for more than 20 years, Oceana found that 39 percent of the 142 seafood samples collected and DNA tested from grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues were mislabeled, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines
Ease of seafood fraud primarily due to the following reasons:
- Lack of transparency and complicated supply chain
- Consumer does not have the experience/knowledge to identify mislabeled seafood making it easy for dishonest restaurateurs and retailers to take advantage of them. (eg. pulling the old bait and switch)
Most of the blame has long been placed on the industry’s opaque supply chain, with its numerous middlemen and widespread opportunity to relabel boxes, but recent testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that about 85% of seafood is properly labeled when it reaches the last consumer-facing point of sale, suggesting that most fraud is perpetrated by restaurants and retailers. This can be as simple as putting grouper (always wild-caught and pricey) on the menu, but serving cheap farmed tilapia instead.
Aquaculture is the controlled farming of seafood. At the moment it is currently plagued by a myriad of problems largely due to lack of regulations. (eg. uncontrolled use of pesticides, drugs and slave labour). Current popular methods (eg. ocean net pens) are not only harmful for the environment but also unsustainable. However the state of Aquaculture is slowly improving with the emergence of more environmentally friendly farming methods and regulatory bodies.
Sustainability is another problem the Seafood industry has to deal with. Popular species (eg. Salmon, bluefin tuna) are being over-fished leading. Due to dwindling supply, the inability to meet consumer demand encourages seafood fraud. In response, chefs have started a ground-up movement of promoting under-utilized and/or invasive species. However bigger corporations need to participate to have a significant impact.
Corporate players can have an even bigger effect. McDonald’s, famously obsessed with reliability and consistency of ingredient supply, quietly swapped dwindling cod for wild Alaskan pollock in its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, in perhaps the biggest sea change of its type. While the Golden Arches may not be synonymous with sustainability, the switch has been heralded by advocates: Pacific pollock is one of the most thriving fisheries* in the world, if not the most, under the certification of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the foremost arbiter of wild fisheries. The Filet-O-Fish wrapper now carries the MSC fish-with-a-checkmark logo, the most desirable consumer indication of wild seafood provenance.
US Legislative action to combat Seafood fraud
- FDA’s new project, Seafood Compliance and Labeling Enforcement (SCALE) = stricter inspections of foreign seafood, and DNA testing lab to authenticate species
- NFI’s (major seafood industry trade group) Better Seafood Board (BSB) – required to join BSB to be NFI member. requires taking a pledge not to sell any seafood that is underweight, bears the wrong species name, or suggests an erroneous place of origin.