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Seafood is a popular food in the United States, yet consumers are routinely given little or no information about the seafood they eat.
Plus, the information provided is frequently misleading or fraudulent: 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.
A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on seafood fraud exposed the current inadequacies in the detection and prevention of seafood fraud by federal agencies.
Seafood fraud can happen at each step of the supply chain – the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging phase. Along with ripping off consumers, the consequences of seafood fraud include:
- Seafood fraud can directly threaten human health. Swapping one fish species for another that may be riddled with contaminants, toxins or allergens can make people sick.
- Seafood fraud creates a market for illegal fishing by making it easy to launder illegally caught seafood products through the U.S. market. This undermines conservation efforts to prevent overfishing and accidental capture of at-risk species and hurts honest fishermen.
- Mislabeling fish makes it difficult for consumers to make eco-friendly choices. Market-driven conservation efforts depend on the consumer’s ability to make an informed purchase of particular species. This effort becomes nearly impossible when fish are mislabeled.
- Seafood fraud misleads consumers about the true availability of seafood and the state of the marine environment. Because mislabeling maintains the appearance of a steady supply of popular fish species despite severe overfishing, the general public is unaware that the species is in serious trouble.
DNA testing is now confirming anecdotal reports that seafood fraud is disturbingly widespread. Both scientists and amateur seafood sleuths have exposed seafood fraud across North America and Europe.