Something Smells Fishy

By on February 21, 2013

This is not the first time seafood has come under scrutiny for mislabeling as noted in my prior blog on this issue.  However, the mislabeling of food for economic gain and consumers’ awareness of the issue is on the rise prompting more media coverage, particularly in the recent outcry over horse meat found to be mislabeled as beef products in the UK.

In the latest study by nonprofit group Oceana, which genetically tested seafood in 12 parts of the country in restaurants, markets and sushi bars, 120 samples of fish labeled as red snapper tested for 28 different species of fish including 17 that are not in the snapper family.  The study could not determine where the mislabeling arose and whether it came from misidentification or deliberate concealment, although the result is the same, economic gain at the consumer’s expense.

Mislabeling in sushi bars was found to be more pervasive than in grocery stores and restaurants.  Southern California had the highest percentage of mislabeling with about 52% of the samples tested to be something other than what they were labeled.   In New York though, 94% of fish labeled as tuna was not in fact tuna.  Also, two-thirds of the “wild” salmon samples were found to be farmed Atlantic salmon, which has also recently come under fire in the wake of the government seeking approval of genetically modified salmon.

Furthermore, some health issues might come into play from the mislabeling.  For example, tile-fish has a federal advisory for its consumption by sensitive populations including pregnant women due to its high level of mercury.  However, tile-fish is sometimes mislabeled as red snapper and halibut.  Although the Food and Drug Administration does permit some substitution of names for marketing purposes such as calling the slimehead fish orange roughy, the government needs to step in to stop mislabeling for consumers’ wallets and health.