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Sourcing Seafood: Study Shows 87 Percent of Seafood Is Mislabeled

Is that red snapper you picked up at the store really something else? Is organic seafood better for you? A study shows seafood is mislabeled 87 percent of the time.

Posted: Oct. 20, 2018 6:00 PM
Updated: Oct. 21, 2018 10:19 AM

UNITED STATES - Whether we live near a coastline or not, seafood is an increasingly popular option for Americans.

The U.S. is now the second-largest consumer of seafood worldwide, after China.

The Centers for Disease Control says about 20 percent of adults are eating fish at least twice a week.

Lisa Rosenberg always asks the managers of her local seafood market to explain where everything comes from.

Rosenberg is reassured, "Just knowing that the seafood we're getting is fresh and coming from a country that has shipped it in a timely manner and markets it and is honest with their marketing practices."

Those practices have come under fire around the globe with rampant fraud in all stages of the seafood industry.

One study of retailers (by the organization Oceana) found seafood like grouper, cod and snapper may be mislabeled up to 87 percent of the time. It is often swapped out for less desirable and cheaper varieties of fish. For example, only seven of their 120 samples of red snapper were actually the real thing.

Specifically in Northern California, the study showed that 38 percent of red snapper was mislabeled, and was actually grouper. Southern California has the highest mislabeling rate in the nation at 52 percent, which is 20 percent higher than the national average.

Vinny Millbourn says it's a really big problem. He comes from a long line of fishermen. The issue, he said, is "once it's prepared there's really no way to check it other than DNA testing, which a lot of companies are not doing."

Millbourn is the fishmonger at Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Company in Brooklyn, New York specializes in local, domestic and traceable species. His storefront acts as a fish market, raw bar and restaurant.

When asked where he buys his fish, he says he has a network of small boat fisherman and wharfs all over the country that ship to him daily through the air or by truck. He says they are processing every single day to bring in the highest quality seafood.

Millbourn not only knows where his fish comes from, but he can tell a tale about each one. That kind of personal connection is hard to find. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and less than one percent is tested by the government.

Larry Olmstead wrote the book "Real Food, Fake Food." He spent years researching the unregulated food industry, calling the fish the most frequently faked food Americans buy.

He says, ""The inexpensive fish that are being substituted, a lot of them are farmed -- in Southeast Asia --from places that have been shown over and over again to use bad practices, banned drugs, banned pesticides."

"The bottom line is a lot of fish that we eat, we don't know where it came from or how it was produced at all," continued Olmstead.

Is eating seafood dangerous?

Olmstead said, "I think it's pretty dangerous. I mean, tens of millions of people that get sick from foodborne illness every year that the C.D.C. cannot explain."

When he was asked whether or not it is better to buy organic seafood, Olstead said, "not really."

"In this country there's no legal standard for seafood," he continued.

"When they did the organic standard for meat, poultry and chicken, they excluded seafood, he explained. "So when you see 'organic' on seafood, it's not a legally enforceable standard --  so they can put that on just about anything."

Olmstead is concerned about the future, with the protection of the the ocean paramount. He said the ocean is the single biggest source of protein in the world.

"It's really important that we take care of the oceans," he said.

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