Bait and Switch: Fraud in the Seafood Industry

Fraud in the Seafood Industry
Fraud in the Seafood Industry

If you love to eat seafood, you want it to be fresh, you want to know if it was caught in the wild, or farm raised in a foreign country and shipped frozen to the US…you want to know if was a Genetically Modified Product…and finally, you want to know if is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Consumers are surprised to know that most of the fish and shrimp we eat in the US comes from foreign countries. We can read the label in the grocery store, assuming it’s accurate, but we can only rely on the restaurant menu for a description for the above questions.

Here are a few interesting findings from a study by Oceana as reported in Consumerist.org

“DNA testing confirmed that 69% of the mislabeled product consisted of farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild-caught product. Consumers satisfying their craving for Salmon in restaurants are misled about 67% of the time, while those who buy their seafood in a grocery store are misled 20% of the time.”

“Americans might love salmon, but as our study reveals, they may be falling victim to a bait and switch,” Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana, said. “When consumers opt for wild-caught U.S. salmon, they don’t expect to get a farmed or lower-value product of questionable origins.”

“Oceana found mislabeled salmon in most areas of the U.S. Nearly 48% of the samples in Virginia, 45% in Washington, D.C., 38% in Chicago, and 37% in New York were mislabeled, according to the report.”

“DNA testing revealed that 30% of the 143 shrimp products sampled by the group contained some kind of misrepresentation including products where one species was swapped for another; product sold as Gulf/wild shrimp were actually farmed; or bags included a mix of different species.”

“This type of seafood fraud can have serious ecological and economic consequences,” Lowell said. “Not only are consumers getting ripped off, but responsible U.S. fishermen are being cheated when fraudulent products lower the price for their hard-won catch.”

“Consumers shopping in national, large grocery stores were less likely to be misled on the origin of their salmon. However, salmon purchased out-of-season from all retail types was three times more likely to be mislabeled than salmon purchased during the traditional commercial fishing season.”

The FDA recently approved AquAdvantage salmon (a GMO salmon) that does not have to be designated as a genetically modified product. Are you eating GMO salmon? Did you know that the government does not require genetically modified salmon to be labeled as such?

According to Takepart.com, AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish told The Washington Post last week that the [GMO] fish would likely be marketed as Atlantic salmon. The fish has an added gene, which the FDA classifies as a drug, that allows it to grow much more rapidly.

The FDA’s decision on the AquaBounty Salmon is an abuse of consumer trust according to the New York times.

Also, according to Takepart.com, the second-largest retailer in the world [Costco] is now one of more than 60 U.S. supermarket chains rejecting the laboratory fish. The largest retailer in the world, Walmart, said in a recent statement that it hasn’t sold and doesn’t intend to sell GMO salmon.

What to look for when buying or ordering seafood in a restaurant

  • Farm raised, country of origin (not where it was distributed from)
  • Wild caught salmon (peak salmon season is May through September)
  • Mislabeling can occur mostly when wild salmon is out of season
  • Dye (in the fish food) used to color the salmon pink

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