Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Seafood Mislabeling: How Prevalent?

When you go to the local butcher shop, and buy a steak, you'll most likely get exactly what you want. If you want beef, you''ll get it. The store wouldn't confuse the issue and mislabel pork or venison as beef. They wouldn't do it with poultry either, so if you want chicken, you'll get it and not duck or quail instead. However, when it comes to seafood, the issue is far from clear cut. There is the possibility you won't get the type of seafood you want to buy because the seafood has been mislabeled. There is some disagreement over the actual frequency of seafood mislabeling.

Sometimes a cheaper fish is mislabeled as a more expensive fish, cheating the customer. Mislabeling though can be more than an economic mistake. In fact, it can be deadly if someone happens to be allergic to the mislabeled seafood. Mislabeling can lead to other potential health problems as well, and thus efforts to reduce mislabeling are very important.

In recent years, a number of organizations have conducted their own mislabeling investigations, and their results have varied, though the amount of mislabeling has usually been seen as high. In response, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) conducted their own investigation in 2012 & 2013, and recently issued a report on their findings. In their investigation, the FDA conducted three sampling efforts, a total of almost 700 DNA tests, from 14 different states, including Massachusetts. They primarily looked at fish which are thought to be at the highest risk of mislabeling, including basa, catfish, cod, grouper, haddock, snapper and swai.

The FDA investigation reached the conclusion that mislabeling occurred only in 15% of the cases, a far lower percentage than other studies concluded. In addition, the FDA found nearly all of the mislabeling occurred with snapper and grouper, which only account for less than 2% of seafood sales, and not all the other allegedly high-risk seafood. Their tests seem to indicate that mislabeling is far less an issue than others have reported. So who is correct? And how do we reduce mislabeling?

Currently, there are already laws against mislabeling, such as Section 403(a)(1) of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act (21 U.S.C. 343(a)(1)). The FDA has issued the Seafood List - FDA's Guide to Acceptable Market Names for Seafood Sold in Interstate Commerce, to provide the seafood industry information to prevent mislabeling. So is there really a need for more laws and regulations in this area, or should there simply be greater efforts involved in enforcing the existing laws and regulations? If seafood mislabeling is a smaller issue, as the FDA investigation concluded, then greater enforcement would probably be the better way to handle the situation.

Something needs to be done to reduce seafood labeling. What do you think is the best solution?

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