Today, Rep. Lois Capps (CA-24) announced that she is the lead sponsor of the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (SAFE Seafood Act), a bill that would require traceability throughout seafood supply chains and improve labeling and safety inspections of seafood sold in the United States. This is a critical step to protect American consumers from unsafe and illegally harvested seafood.
The United States currently imports up to 90 percent of its seafood, yet the government only inspects one percent of it for fraud. Seafood can be subjected to fraud at any step in the supply chain. Examples of seafood fraud include mislabeling the species or country of origin, or treating the product with substances that add weight without marking it on the label. The lack of government oversight on these practices leads to fraudulent seafood being widely sold in supermarkets and restaurants. A recent study by Oceana, in which DNA tests were performed on commonly mislabeled species in retail outlets in 21 states, found that 33 percent of tested seafood was mislabeled. In Southern California, 52 percent of tested seafood was mislabeled.
“American consumers deserve truthful information about the quality, health risks and environmental impacts of the seafood they eat,” Capps said. “The SAFE Seafood Act will help ensure that consumers know what they are eating and increase enforcement of seafood fraud, while protecting businesses who unknowingly supply fraudulent seafood.”
There are several causes for concern over seafood fraud. Some fish species that are commonly mislabeled as high-quality species contain more harmful toxins such as mercury. Recent testing detected unnaturally high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, in a large number of Asian fish species being sold in U.S. supermarkets. Consumers are also paying premium prices for high quality seafood only to receive lower quality products. A follow-up study by Oceana found that commonly swapped species cost up to twice as much as their cheaper counterparts. Seafood fraud also harms U.S. fishermen who use sustainable fishing practices. Their products can be out-priced by lower-quality substitute species, which can be caught illegally and often originate from other countries. The SAFE Seafood Act would create a level playing field for Central Coast fishers to sell their high-quality products for a fair price, and help insure they are not being undercut by lower-value or mislabeled products.
“Seafood fraud is a national problem that requires a national solution,” said Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana. “Tracking our seafood from boat to plate is the best way to ensure that consumers are actually getting what they pay for. We deserve to know that our seafood is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled, and the SAFE Seafood Act is the way to make that happen.”
The SAFE Seafood Act is supported by numerous chefs, restaurant owners, environmental groups and consumers. The concept of seafood traceability has been tested by more than 1,000 seafood companies in 24 countries – for example, the voluntary Gulf Seafood Trace program in the Gulf of Mexico has led to business increases of up to 18 percent for some companies. The SAFE Seafood Act was previously introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (MA-05), who recently transitioned out of the House of Representatives to take a seat in the Senate.