Yesterday, in a letter to Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) urged the agency for stricter oversight and enforcement of seafood fraud, highlighting the investigative work of Oceana, writing:
“It is unacceptable that proven fraud is occurring on such a widespread basis. Seafood fraud is not only deceptive marketing, but it can also pose serious health concerns, particularly for pregnant women seeking to limit exposure to heavy metals or individuals with serious allergies to certain types of fish.
Recent studies suggest how pervasive the problem of seafood fraud has become in the United States. Since 2011, Oceana has collected fish samples from numerous grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues in different metropolitan areas and has had them genetically tested to determine their composition. In Miami and Fort Lauderdale, 31 percent of the seafood tested by the group was found to be mislabeled. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, 55 percent of the seafood tested was mislabeled.”
In the video above, Oceana’s Northeast representative Gib Brogan talks with the Boston Globe about an investigation of Massachusetts restaurants, grocery stores and fish markets. Testing by the Globe revealed that 48 percent of 183 samples were not the same species of fish as advertised. Oftentimes cheaper alternatives were swapped for higher-priced fish.
But seafood fraud is not only a pocketbook issue. It can be harmful, even deadly to consumers. Starting in 2006, 282 22-pound boxes labeled “monkfish” were imported from China to the U.S. through California and distributed to wholesalers in Illinois, California and Hawaii. In fact, the boxes were filled with pufferfish, containing the deadly neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. Pufferfish can be lethal if not prepared correctly and a woman in Chicago became severely ill from eating the mislabeled fish.
On Wednesday afternoon, the state of Massachusetts became a national leader in the fight against mislabeled seafood with a clear message: with an abundance of local seafood, there is no place for mislabeled seafood in Massachusetts, and more must be done to combat this common problem and protect consumers and the fishing industry from fraud.
The Hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure provided a forum for representatives of the state Office of Consumer Protection, Department of Public Health and the Division of Marine Fisheries to update the committee on their efforts to respond to the issue, which was highlighted in a Boston Globe investigation and supported by separate research by Consumer Reports and Oceana.
Drawing on its research into the causes and solutions to this chronic problem, Oceana was among a group of industry and scientific representatives that provided testimony to the committee. Oceana offered new information and clear recommendations about solutions to ensure that all fish are accurately labeled and can be tracked back to their boat or farm of origin.
In response to the testimony provided to the committee, Representative Theodore C. Speliotis, co-chair of the committee, summarized: “It’s clear there has been no oversight on fish mislabeling – none. This hearing is really just the first step.’’