Are Americans concerned about seafood safety?


Fiona Robinson, SeaFood Business associate publisher and editor

Published on
September 28, 2009

The National Fisheries Institute convened a consumer focus group on Friday during its annual meeting in New Orleans to discuss seafood food-safety concerns. While the panel discussed a variety of topics, it was clear the focus group was most concerned with buying fresh, local seafood rather than worrying about food-safety issues.

All of the panelists said food-safety concerns do not prevent them from serving seafood at home. However, one panelist mentioned she does consider what species to eat to avoid those with high methylmercury levels. One panelist who recently gave birth said she eats a lot of seafood and did not avoid the protein while pregnant.

“Most of the fish I was advised to stay away from [because of high mercury contents] I wouldn’t eat anyway,” she said.

Meanwhile, other panelists raised questions about farmed fish and were concerned as to whether toxins build up in the ponds fish are raised in.

All of the panelists had heard about methylmercury content in seafood but weren’t so concerned that it was limiting their seafood consumption.

“[The news about methylmercury] is becoming saturated. In certain fish it’s well documented. Overall, I think it’s been exaggerated,” said one panelist.

When asked what information they would need to determine if imported seafood is safe, panelists wanted to know the seafood source and how it was transported, while another panelist voiced concern over imports from China.

“I’d like to see U.S. inspectors [in China] to verify the source and methods of how it’s caught, transported, etc.,” said one panelist.

After fielding questions from the audience as to whether the seafood industry was making efforts to be sustainable, it was clear the consumers had wide-ranging interpretations of what sustainability is. One panelist was concerned that nature can’t sustain the rate of seafood consumption, while another was just concerned as to whether there was enough fish to feed his family.

“I think sustainability is [a huge concern]. Sooner or later people have to come to grips that we need something to meet demand,” said one panelist.

The consumer focus group was run by Brian Gottleib of Got-Focus in Alexandria, Va. All of the panelists indicated they eat seafood and purchase it for their household.

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