Are the Fish You Order the Fish You are Served

Studies have linked eating fish with slowing the aging process, lowering the risk of stroke and cardiovascular issues, controlling blood pressure, cutting the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and as a protection from Alzheimer’s disease. The federal government and leading health organizations recommend eating two servings of seafood or 12 ounces each week as part of a healthy diet.  Consumers are heeding the advice with the United States only trailing China as the second largest seafood consumer worldwide.  But how certain are you that the fish you are eating has been correctly identified.

Oceana, founded in 2001, is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation.  They conducted an investigation on seafood substitution in the U.S. from 2010 to 2012.  More than 1,200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states were collected to determine if they were honestly labeled.  They found through DNA testing that one-third of the samples were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.  Snapper and tuna were the most commonly mislabeled fish types.  Between one-fifth to more than one-third of the halibut, grouper, cod and Chilean seabass samples were mislabeled.  In October, Oceana released a new study that showed that shrimp was misrepresented in 30 percent of the 143 products tested.

It can be difficult to determine whether seafood is accurately labeled.  But with state and federal inspections and criminal investigations to traceability systems and genetic analysis, regulators and industry are cracking down on seafood fraud. With as much as thirty percent of the seafood entering the U.S. estimated to be mislabeled they need help.   A University of South Florida team has developed a hand held sensor capable of authenticating grouper called GrouperChek.  The test results are available in 45 minutes, can be conducted anywhere and the cost per test is about $30.  They plan to add other types of fish, including red snapper, tuna and halibut once GrouperChek is established.

NOAA’s FishWatch program says that with “new and growing partnerships and evolving technologies, consumers should be more confident that they’re not getting conned at the fish counter and that their seafood is safe and properly labeled.”  You can help combat seafood fraud, too—report any suspected fraudulent activities on the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at 1.800.853.1964.

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