The Beacon

NYC Seafood Fraud Report Making Waves

What's on your plate? Source: wikimedia commons

Spurred by Oceana’s seafood fraud report for New York City released last week, Sunday’s New York Times took a broader look at the widespread practice of food mislabeling.

Oceana’s initial report, which was also covered in the Times, included a number of eyebrow-raising findings.  After analyzing 142 samples, Oceana found that 56 of them, or 39 percent tested in New York City, were something other than what was advertised on the menu.

It also found that 100 percent of sushi restaurants tested in the area sold mislabeled fish, that 94 percent of “white tuna” was, in fact, escolar (a fish which can cause gastrointestinal problems in some diners), and that 79 percent of red snapper was mislabeled, in one instance being switched with tilefish, which is on the FDA’s do not eat list because of its high mercury content.

Chef Tom Colicchio was not shocked by this latest round of fraud uncovered by Oceana. “This has been going on for as long as I’ve been cooking,” he says in the article. 500 chefs, from Eric Ripert to Mario Batali have signed a letter calling on Congress to end to seafood mislabeling.

The article suggests that diners can arm themselves with a baseline of seafood-related knowledge to fend off fraudulent menu items:

“If a restaurant claims to have fresh Maine diver scallops in July, it helps to know that the tightly regulated bivalves can be harvested only from December to March. (And that they are rarely taken from the sea by actual divers.) Fresh wild Alaska salmon should not be on plates in January.”

Meanwhile, news of Oceana’s report caught the eye of NYU nutrition, food studies and public health professor Marion Nestle, who during the research for her book What To Eat, ran into a similarly opaque experience at the fish counter, which she calls “the Wild West of the supermarket”:

“A nearby…supermarket…offered a refrigerator case packed with plastic-wrapped seafood…Although the wrappings were clearly marked with the species, weight, and price, none said where or how the fish had been raised.  In answer to a question about whether a piece of salmon was farm-raised or wild, a clerk replied, 'I really have no idea where this thing comes from.'”

Ultimately, it will be up to lawmakers to safeguard the public from being ripped off or made sick by their seafood. That’s why Oceana is urging Congress to pass the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act, H.R. 6200, which ensures full traceability for seafood sold in this country.

Join the fight against seafood fraud and sign our petition.


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