Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, urging the agency to increase enforcement efforts to address seafood fraud. In many cases, fish and other seafood is deliberately mislabeled and sold two consumers. The Senator said, “it is unacceptable that proven fraud is occurring on such a widespread basis. Seafood fraud is not only deceptive marketing, but it can pose serious health concerns, particularly for pregnant women seeking to limit exposure to heavy metals or individuals with serious allergies to certain types of fish.”
Since 2011, the group Oceana collected samples of fish from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi facilities and genetically tested them. In Miami and Fort Lauderdale, 31% of the seafood tested by the group was mislabeled. In Los Angeles and Orange county, California, 55% of the seafood tested was mislabeled.
Almost 86% of the seafood consumed in this country is imported. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that only 2% of imported seafood products are inspected by the FDA, and just 0.01% are specifically inspected for mislabeling.
The letter states, “Oceana’s investigations in Southern Florida found a case in which a fish sold as grouper was actually king mackerel, a fish that federal and state authorities warn women of childbearing age not to eat due to high mercury levels. They also found that all samples of white tuna tested in their Florida study were actually escolar, a species that can cause severe digestive upset.”
The FDA does have the authority to inspect for fraud, but few inspections of this type are conducted. Senator Boxer states that the agency needs better traceability and enforcement throughout the entire chain of sale, from bait to plate.