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February 21, 2013

Seafood fraud: what’s on your plate?

BY: Angela Pauly



Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard about the “horse meat” lasagna discovery that has turned into an EU-wide food labeling crisis. When we, as consumers, go to a store or a restaurant, we expect to get what we pay for, and that I believe is a right that our governments and food providers owe us.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t end with ground “beef,” and actually extends to seafood. Our colleagues in North America today unveiled a report uncovering widespread seafood fraud across the United States. In one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world to date, DNA testing confirmed that 33% of the 1,215 fish samples collected by Oceana from 674 retail outlets in the US were mislabeled, with the percentage going as high as 52% in California.

Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana described the findings: “Some of the fish substitutions we found are just disturbing. Apart from being cheated, many consumers are being denied the right to choose fish wisely based on health or conservations concerns.” 

So, what does this have to do with Europe you may ask?

Well, everything.

True, a study of this scale hasn’t been conducted across the EU, but evidence has already emerged in several European countries to suggest widespread seafood mislabeling. In 2011, a study revealed that 28% of cod products in Ireland were mislabeled and found to be either a less sustainable species of cod, or less expensive fish species including whiting, pollock, and saithe. In Mediterranean countries, including Spain, Italy and Malta, when customers order swordfish, they may actually be getting blue shark, which is similar in taste and appearance, but much cheaper.

There is still much to be done to make sure the food we purchase to feed ourselves and our families is the same thing we put on our grocery lists. Public awareness is critical. Since the news broke about the horsemeat scandal, it has become an issue that the EU cannot ignore, and hopefully our colleagues in the US have made widespread seafood fraud an issue that the US government can no longer ignore.