“Tuna” Sold in the U.S. Isn’t Tuna
“Tuna” Sold in the U.S. Isn’t Tuna
Oceana Study Reveals Seafood Fraud Nationwide
Authors: Kimberly Warner, Ph.D., Walker Timme, Beth Lowell and Michael Hirshfield, Ph.D.
Americans are routinely urged to include more seafood in their diets as part of a healthy lifestyle. Yetconsumers are often given inadequate, confusing or misleading information about the seafood theypurchase. The dishonest and illegal practice of substituting one seafood species for another, or seafoodfraud, has been uncovered both in the United States and abroad at levels ranging from 25 to more than70 percent for commonly swapped species such as red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod.
From 2010 to 2012, Oceana conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world todate, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states to determine if theywere honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third (33 percent) of the 1,215 samples analyzednationwide were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
Of the most commonly collected fish types, samples sold as snapper and tuna had the highestmislabeling rates (87 and 59 percent, respectively), with the majority of the samples identified by DNAanalysis as something other than what was found on the label. In fact, only seven of the 120 samples ofred snapper purchased nationwide were actually red snapper. The other 113 samples were another fish.Halibut, grouper, cod and Chilean seabass were also mislabeled between 19 and 38 percent of the time,while salmon was mislabeled 7 percent of the time.
Forty-four percent of all the retail outlets visited sold mislabeled fish. Restaurants, grocery stores andsushi venues all sold mislabeled fish and chances of being swindled varied greatly depending on wherethe seafood was purchased. Our study identified strong national trends in seafood mislabeling levelsamong retail types, with sushi venues ranking the highest (74 percent), followed by restaurants (38percent) and then grocery stores (18 percent). These same trends among retail outlets were generallyobserved at the regional level.
Seafood substitutions included species carrying health advisories (e.g. king mackerel sold as grouper;escolar sold as white tuna), cheaper farmed fish sold as wild (e.g. tilapia sold as red snapper), andoverfished, imperiled or vulnerable species sold as more sustainable catch (e.g. Atlantic halibut sold asPacific halibut). Our testing also turned up species not included among the more than 1,700 seafoodspecies the federal government recognizes as sold or likely to be sold in the U.S. As our resultsdemonstrate, a high level of mislabeling nationwide indicates that seafood fraud harms not only theconsumer’s pocket book, but also every honest vendor or fisherman along the supply chain. Thesefraudulent practices also carry potentially serious concerns for the health of consumers, and for the healthof our oceans and vulnerable fish populations.
Because our study was restricted to seafood sold in retail outlets, we cannot say exactly where thefraudulent activity occurred. The global seafood supply chain is increasingly complex and obscure. Withlagging federal oversight and minimal government inspection despite rising fish imports, and withoutsampling along the supply chain, it is difficult to determine if fraud is occurring at the boat, duringprocessing, at the wholesale level, at the retail counter or somewhere else along the way.
Our findings demonstrate that a comprehensive and transparent traceability system – one that tracks fishfrom boat to plate – must be established at the national level. At the same time, increased inspection andtesting of our seafood, specifically for mislabeling, and stronger federal and state enforcement of existinglaws combatting fraud are needed to reverse these disturbing trends. Our government has a responsibilityto provide more information about the fish sold in the U.S., as seafood fraud harms not only consumers’wallets, but also every honest vendor and fisherman cheated in the process--to say nothing of the healthof our oceans.
The full report from Oceana can be found here.