Oceana Canada urges government action on seafood mislabeling

Oceana Canada, which has previously identified seafood mislabeling across Canada, released a new report on Montreal indicating a higher rate of mislabeling in that province.

Sixty-one percent of seafood samples tested in retailers across Montreal were either substituted species or didn’t meet the labeling requirements set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Oceana Canada found.

Across Canada, an average of 47 percent of seafood samples purchased in grocery stores and restaurants are mislabeled, according to Oceana Canada’s testing of 472 seafood samples in six Canadian cities between 2017 and 2019.

Oceana Canada’s national, multi-year investigation found a 67 percent mislabeling rate in Victoria, 59 percent in Toronto, 46 percent in Ottawa, 38 percent in Halifax, and 26 percent in Vancouver.

As a result, Oceana Canada is urging consumers to sign a petition calling on CFIA to “take the lead on implementing full boat-to-plate traceability for all seafood sold in Canada,” the NGO said on its website.

“We have found farmed fish served up as wild-caught, cheaper species substituted for more expensive ones and fish banned in many countries because of health risks masquerading as another species,” said Josh Laughren, executive director at Oceana Canada. “We’ve also uncovered rampant problems with Canada’s seafood traceability and labeling standards. Canadians deserve to know that their seafood is safe, honestly labeled, and legally caught.”

The solution is implementing boat-to-plate traceability and comprehensive labeling in Canadian seafood supply chains, Laughren said.

“This means requiring key information to be paired with fish products from the point of harvest to the point of sale. This will reduce instances of fraud and mislabeling, protect Canadian consumers, honest fishers and vulnerable fish populations, and help Canada’s seafood industry access global markets – many of which already demand stronger traceability,” he added.

After the European Union instituted stringent traceability and comprehensive labeling requirements, fraud rates dropped from 23 percent in 2011 to 7 percent in 2014, according to Oceana Canada.

However, Oceana is wasting its money on the type of seafood mislabeling reports it is publishing, Jack Cheney, contributing writer for Sustainable Fisheries UW and sourcing director for Real Good Fish, told SeafoodSource.

“Seafood mislabeling is an issue, just not a primary campaign warranting all the time, money, and brainpower Oceana has put into it thus far. An organization with such resources is wasting them on these studies, when they could be focusing on more serious issues in ocean advocacy,” Cheney said. “It seems clear that they hope to advance seafood labeling legislation forward with studies like this – which I think is an important endeavor for other reasons. I just hate that they are doing so by conducting flawed and lazy studies for fast headlines that condemn restaurants and retailers as the villains.” 

Out of 54 samples of snapper collected across Canada, none were actually snapper, “despite the fact that the CFIA Fish List allows more than 200 fish species to carry that label,” Sayara Thurston, seafood fraud campaigner at Oceana Canada, told SeafoodSource. “It is often substituted with rockfish or tilapia. Similarly, none of the 28 samples of yellowtail were in fact yellowtail, and are commonly replaced with Japanese amberjack. These substituted species have negative health, economic and environmental impacts.”

However, Cheney said this type of science is flawed.

“On first glance, they are again cherry-picking from a list of the most likely species to be mislabeled, not looking at the rate of mislabeling across all seafood consumed in Montreal," Cheney noted. "This new extension to the previous Canadian study was meant to find fraud, not test for fraud."

Photos courtesy of Oceana Canada


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