Americans spend a lot of money on seafood; to the tune of $80.2 billion per year.
However, you may not always be buying what you think you are.
More than one-fifth of 190 pieces of fish bought by Consumer Reports in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut were mislabeled as different species of fish, incomplete labeling, or not properly identified by employees.
While some of these errors may not be deliberate it does hurt consumers, especially when less expensive fish is used at the expense of the costlier fish. Substitution also impacts consumer health when fish higher in mercury and other toxins are bought as a result of errors.
Consumer Reports bought sent their fish samples to a third party lab for DNA testing. Researches removed genetic material from the samples and compared them to standard DNA fragments to determine if shoppers were being deceived. The findings were indeed dramatic.
Only one in 14 fish bought by Consumer reports was identified correctly. Eighteen percent of the samples were matched incorrectly to the labels, and four percent were completely mislabeled by employees. In addition, 10 lemon soles and one half of the red snappers bought were labeled as the wrong specie. One sample fish was marked as Grouper, but was in reality tilefish. This is a huge mistake because tilefish has on average three times the mercury level as Grouper.
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Another group, Oceana conducted its own DNA testing on fish. They sampled 1200 fish across the United States and found one third were mislabeled. Eighty-seven of the red snapper samples turned out to be other species other than red snapper. Tuna came in second place; 59 percent of all tuna samples were labeled incorrectly.
Samples were also taken from Sushi restaurants. Seventy-four percent of the fish found had label errors. These results included every single restaurant including those in major markets, like New York, Chicago and Washington DC. Eighty four percent of White Tuna tested from sushi restaurants was actually escolar, which can cause serious digestive issues.
The question beckons to be asked, how can this happen? Over 90 percent of the seafood in the United States is imported, yet only 1 percent is tested. Ocean suggests more stringent tracking be established on a national level, along with tougher testing.