On average, about one fifth of seafood sampled worldwide isn’t what it’s supposed to be. That shocking stat comes from a new report from the group Oceana which conducted a review of over 200 studies from 55 countries that, in total, consisted of over 25,000 samplings of seafood. According to the report, the problem runs significantly deeper than restaurants fibbing on their menus. In fact, no one single source is to blame: “The studies reviewed found seafood mislabeling at every sector of the seafood supply chain: retail, wholesale, distribution, import/export, packaging/processing and landing.”
At this point, many of us have heard stories of steelhead trout being passed off as salmon at a grocery store or maybe a restaurant left the “imitation” out of the name of its crab soup. But Oceana’s finding show that the problem is far more severe and possibly less innocuous than many of us may think or know.
Purely discussing the scale of the issue, the report points out that of the hundreds of studies Oceana reviewed, only one didn’t uncover some kind of seafood fraud, meaning this problem has been found on every continent but Antarctica. In some areas, specific fraud was especially rampant: The study cites the city of Brussels, where 98 percent of 69 different Bluefin tuna dishes tested in local restaurants came back as mislabeled.
But what makes the findings especially troublesome is the possible repercussions – including health risks to humans and conservation risks to fish. Oceana highlights a number of examples. For humans, the report states, “More than half (58 percent) of the samples substituted for other seafood posed a species-specific health risk to consumers, meaning that consumers could be eating fish that could make them sick.” That’s a pretty scary thought, especially when you don’t even know what you’re eating.
As for the fish species themselves, Oceana provided this alarming tidbit as an unfortunate example of the seediness involved in mislabeling: “In Brazil, 55 percent of ‘shark’ samples tested were actually largetooth sawfish, a species considered by the [International Union for Conservation of Nature] to be critically endangered and for which trade is prohibited in Brazil.” Though eating this endangered species may not make you physically ill, it may make you feel a bit sick in the stomach regardless.
Oceana’s takeaway is clear: “Seafood fraud is a serious global problem that undermines honest businesses and fishermen that play by the rules. It also threatens consumer health and puts our oceans at risk.” Their solution: Better transparency and accountability.
And as consumers, shouldn’t we demand to know what we’re eating? If your burger was made out of horse meat instead of beef, you’d be outraged. Just because you’ve never seen someone ride a grouper doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be pissed off if it isn’t what you ordered. You can see an interactive map Oceana made highlighting many of the problems below.
[h/t Huffington Post]