California Lawmakers Attempt to Reel in Seafood Fraud
Press Release Date: April 26, 2012
Location: Sacramento, CA
The California Senate Committee on Health took a key step forward to combat rampant seafood fraud occurring in the Golden State by passing SB 1486 (Lieu- D). SB 1486 is a seafood labeling bill with important ramifications for human health, environmental sustainability, and consumer protection. Oceana applauds the Senate Health Committee for taking a leadership role in confronting the appalling level of seafood fraud in California.
“Senate Bill 1486 would help protect public health and the environment while providing consumers a more accurate understanding of the source of the seafood they eat in restaurants,” Senator Lieu said. “Despite federal attempts to require point-of-origin labeling, the source of much of the seafood Californians eat remains a potentially dangerous mystery.”
SB 1486 will serve as a catalyst to get to the heart of seafood mislabeling in California by requiring that chain restaurants with 19 or more locations provide consumers with key information about the seafood they are served including: the scientific common name of the seafood; the country in which the seafood was raised or caught; and whether the seafood was farm-raised or wild-caught. The Senate Health Committee was the first legislative committee to discuss the bill.
“With new information on seafood fraud, California consumers are faced with the frustration of knowing that about half the time they are being served commonly swapped species instead of the seafood they actually ordered. Despite consumers best intentions to make informed decisions about the source and sustainability of their menu selections, they are being dupped by this mislabeling” said Geoff Shester, Oceana California Program Director. “Senate Bill 1486 will help turn the tide on seafood fraud giving consumers the information they need to know to make informed decisions that affect their health and the health of the oceans.”
Seafood fraud in California is a more prevalent issue than previously thought. As reported last week in the Los Angeles Times, genetic testing of seafood samples collected by Oceana last year in Los Angeles and Orange Counties found shockingly high frequencies of seafood fraud at multiple points of sale. Specifically, 55% of seafood purchased by Oceana from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues combined were fraudulently mislabeled according to federal guidelines, with sushi restaurants having the highest rate of fraud (87%). In many cases, the mislabeling obscured key information relevant to health advice by the FDA. The US imports 84% of its seafood, but according to a 2009 government audit, less than 0.001% was specifically inspected for seafood fraud.
Seafood fraud manifests itself in a few different ways. For example, DNA samples of seafood purchased in LA and Orange Counties found that some consumers ordered red snapper, sockeye salmon, or halibut but were actually served farmed tilapia, pollock, farmed salmon, or flounder- receiving less desirable products while paying higher market prices. Seafood mislabeling also carries a health risk. Escolar, often substituted for “white tuna,” is aptly nicknamed the “ex-lax” fish. This snake mackerel species contains a naturally occurring toxin, gempylotoxin, that can cause severe gastrointestinal problems for those who eat too much. Mislabeled seafood also may expose consumers unknowingly to seafood for which the FDA has high-mercury advisories, which is especially concerning for sensitive populations such as children and women of childbearing age. Seafood fraud can also compromise the health of ocean ecosystems as some species sold as red snapper are actually overfished rockfish species or ecologically damaging farmed tilapia.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 500,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.