FDA seafood fraud investigation finds fewer offenses

Published on
October 27, 2014

A new report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) counters the claims of rampant seafood mislabeling made by Oceana and multiple media organizations.

The results of the FDA’s extensive, two-year seafood labeling investigation found that 85 percent of the seafood it tested was properly labeled. In fiscal year 2012 and 2013, the agency conducted nearly 700 DNA tests on cod, haddock, catfish, snapper, grouper and pangasius samples. At FDA investigators’ discretion, additional sampling was taken from other species, including mahimahi, orange roughy, monkfish and swordfish.

The samples of fillets, whole fish and packaged fish were collected from wholesalers in 14 states, prior to being sold in restaurants or at retail stores. The FDA found that none of the catfish, cod, haddock, swai, mahimahi, orange roughy, monkfish and swordfish were mislabeled. However, 37 percent of the snapper samples were mislabeled, as were 11 percent of grouper samples.

“This extensive federal analysis brings the challenge of mislabeling into a much clearer focus,” said John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), in a statement. “While at the same time calling into question other mislabeling ‘studies’ that suggest the issue is widespread and in need of a legislative fix.”
 
NFI officials said the study results confirm what the organization has been pushing for: enforcement of federal and state anti-fraud labeling laws, rather than new legislation.

“NFI is not opposed to all seafood fraud legislation. But we are opposed to legislation for legislation’s sake. Legislation that pushes for increased enforcement of the many seafood fraud laws that are on the books is something we could get behind but changing fish names and duplicating regulatory responsibilities in order to say we’re addressing the issue is not productive,” Gavin Gibbons, spokesperson for NFI, told SeafoodSource.

For example, seafood labeling legislation California Senate Bill 1138, which was vetoed by California Gov. Jerry Brown two weeks ago, would have put California at odds with the other 49 state and the federal government, “While doing functionally nothing to address fish fraud,” Gibbons said.

Instead of new legislation, the federal government must simply allocate additional resources and making seafood labeling a priority, according to Gibbons.

“Meanwhile, members of NFI are also members of the Better Seafood Board (BSB) and membership in the only industry lead anti-fraud organization differentiates them in the marketplace,” he said.

In fact, the BSB and the National Restaurant Association work together on the labeling issue through a memorandum of understanding that includes educational outreach and even menu audits.The seafood industry can take additional steps to improve labeling as well.

“Eighty-five percent of seafood was labeled correctly and the mislabeling was focused on two species,” said Connelly in the statement. “Our job is to work with companies and focus on those problem areas.”

In addition, the FDA on Friday launched an online module training program that is designed to educate retailers, wholesalers and others about seafood labeling.

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