WASHINGTON — The fish industry would have to publicly track fish from the boat to the plate under a sweeping new seafood fraud bill introduced Wednesday by US representatives Edward Markey and Barney Frank that imposes hefty fines for violators.
The Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act, or SAFE Seafood Act, comes nearly a year after a Globe report revealed widespread seafood substitution in restaurants across Massachusetts. Results of the five-month investigation published last fall found nearly half of the fish tested at 134 restaurants and supermarkets was mislabeled. In many cases, less desirable and cheaper species took the place of fresh local fish.
“When people walk into a restaurant and put down hard-earned money for a favorite fish, they expect to get what they ordered, especially in New England,” Markey said. “If businesses are fraudulently serving a substitute, then it’s just wrong and has to be stopped. This bill increases inspections, it increases penalties, and it increases coordination at the federal level and with state and local agencies.”
The bill would require fish packers, supermarkets, and restaurants to provide details about all seafood, including the scientific name, the market name, and the geographic region where the fish was caught. The proposed legislation also calls for greater cooperation between the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration so they share more information about seafood substitution, create a public list of mislabeling offenders, and avoid conducting duplicate inspections at seafood plants.
The two agencies were criticized in a government report in 2009 for failing to do enough to fight fish fraud and coordinate inspection efforts. For example, the FDA inspected 315 domestic seafood facilities that NOAA also examined between 2005 and 2009.
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