Watch out sushi lovers. That yellowtail tuna may not be what you think it is. The non-profit group Oceana says buyer beware for fish lovers after DNA testing released today (Feb. 21) found more than half (55 percent) of the seafood sampled in Los Angeles restaurants and grocers was mislabeled.
Mislabelling is not only illegal, it may pose health risks in the form of allergens, contaminants or pathogens in substituted species, said the Oceana press statement. Seafood fraud threatens not only our health, but the health of our oceans, as illegally harvested or overfished species may be substituted for those that are legal and sustainable.
In May and December of 2011, Oceana staff and supporters collected 119 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The targeted species included those that were found to be mislabeled in previous studies as well as those with regional significance such as wild salmon, Dover or other regional soles, red snapper, yellowtail and white tuna.
Most of the restaurants and all of the sushi venues visited were in L.A. County. Restaurants and sushi venues included those that were Zagat rated for “Most Popular” and “Seafood” and those recommended by Yelp or others. Grocery stores were selected based on proximity to targeted restaurants and sushi venues.
Every single fish sold with the word “snapper” in the label, 34 out of 34, was mislabeled according to those federal guidelines. Other fish commonly mislabeled in the study were tuna, with eight out of 13 species mislabeled, particularly those labeled “white tuna” followed by five labeled “yellowtail.” Two of each of the samples in the “wild salmon,” “cod” and “ono” categories were mislabeled. One out of five Chilean sea bass samples were mislabeled, as was the only “striped bass” sampled. The study found no mislabeling in the small number of samples (one to two) of the remaining fish types sampled, including swordfish, flounder, mahi mahi, grouper, haddock, skate and wahoo.
Among the report’s other key findings include:
- Fraud was detected in 11 out of 18 different types of fish purchased.
- Every single fish sold with the word “snapper” in the label (34 out of 34) was mislabeled, according to federal guidelines.
- Nearly nine out of every ten sushi samples was mislabeled.
- Eight out of nine sushi samples labeled as “white tuna” were actually escolar, a species that carries a health warning for it purgative effects.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. imports 84% of its seafood, ranking second among the world’s top seafood importing nations. The complex and often obscure path that seafood takes from boat to plate opens the door for illegal activity, making it easy to hide where fraud occurs along the supply chain. A U.S. government audit in 2009 revealed that of the 84% of seafood imported into the U.S., only 2% was inspected and less than 0.001% specifically for seafood fraud, according to the GAO. When the Boston Globe reported similar fraud, FDA said they plan to increase staffing and inspections to solve the problem.
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