Add another powerful political voice urging the Food and Drug Administration to better combat rampant seafood mislabeling in restaurants and stores.
This time, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California has written a strongly worded letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking her to better deal with alarmingly high incidences of seafood fraud. Other politicians, including U.S. Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts who has co-authored a sweeping bill to stop mislabeling, have made similar pleas to the agency.
“It is unacceptable that proven fraud is occurring on such a widespread basis,’’ the Democrat wrote. “Seafood fraud is not only deceptive marketing, but it can also 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.”
The Boston Globe published a series on seafood mislabeling last year called “Fishy Business.” The five-month investigation found that Massachusetts consumers routinely and unknowingly overpay for less desirable fish. The Globe targeted fish most likely to be mislabeled from more than 100 restaurants, grocery stores, and seafood markets and DNA tested them. The investigated found that 48 percent of 183 samples turned out to be a different species than what was advertised.
Oceana, an environmental advocacy group, has been working to end seafood fraud and has also DNA-tested fish collected from numerous grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues across the country. In Miami and Fort Lauderdale, 31 percent of the seafood tested by the group was mislabeled. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, 55 percent of the seafood tested was mislabeled.
Some 91 percent of seafood U.S. consumers eat today is imported, but a 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that only two percent of all imports are inspected by the FDA and just .01 are inspected specifically for mislabeling. The FDA has recently launched a program to DNA test fish coming into ports, but it is unclear what percentage they are testing. A call to the FDA was not immediately returned.