California approves seafood mislabeling bill


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
September 5, 2014

On Friday, the California State Senate gave final legislative approval to Senate Bill 1138. The bill, by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima, pictured), addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his consideration.

“SB 1138 addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling by making sure that seafood is labeled accurately. Mislabeled seafood threatens public health, honest businesses and imperils the sustainability of sea life in the Pacific Ocean and oceans around the world,” said Sen. Padilla. “My bill will ensure that seafood is labeled accurately.”

“The seafood we buy at the grocery store should be what the label says. The seafood we order at our favorite restaurant should be the seafood we are served,” added Padilla. “To protect our health, oceans, and economy, it is essential that seafood be accurately labeled. Honesty is always the best policy.”

While spending on seafood in the United States has grown to more than USD 80 billion (EUR 61.8 billion) annually, state law does not provide clear guidance regarding accurate labeling of seafood. The lack of standards has led to high rates of mislabeling throughout the state. A recent study by Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, found 52 percent of all fish sampled in Southern California and 38 percent of all fish sampled in Northern California were mislabeled.

SB 1138 would make it unlawful for any person to knowingly sell or offer to sell at wholesale or retail any fresh, frozen, or processed food fish or shellfish without identifying the species of food fish or shellfish by its common name. The bill also makes it illegal to mislabel seafood as farmed or wild, or its country of origin. A violation would be punishable by a USD 1,000 (EUR 772) fine and up to a year in jail. The bill is modeled after similar legislation approved in the state of Washington.

“Today is a win-win-win for public health, honest businesses and ocean health,” said Ashley Blacow, Oceana Pacific policy and communications manager. “Californians need Governor Brown to sign SB 1138 into law so consumers are empowered with the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision.”

“In order to ensure imported seafood is treated the same as exported sea food, Del Mar Seafoods is supportive of requiring consistent seafood labeling requirements for both foreign and domestic entities. Lack of labeling requirements on imported seafood creates an uneven playing field for California companies,” said Joe Cappuccio, president of California-based Del Mar Seafoods.

In 2013, Oceana released the results of its nationwide study on fish sampled at retail outlets, such as restaurants, grocery stores and sushi bars including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Monterey and found:

• 84 percent of sushi samples were mislabeled in Southern California

• 58 percent of restaurants visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish

• 52 percent of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Los Angeles and Orange Counties

• 38 percent of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Northern California

• 27 percent of grocery stores visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish

• Southern California leads the nation in mislabeled fish

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