YONKERS, N.Y. — A nagging seafood industry problem returned to the media spotlight recently after three recent, separate investigations by The Boston Globe, Oceana and Consumers Union here revealed that more than one-fifth of seafood sold by retailers and restaurants may be mislabeled, incompletely labeled or misidentified by store or restaurant employees.
Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, purchased 190 pieces of seafood at stores and restaurants in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and had the samples DNA tested at an independent, third-party lab.
Four percent of the samples were incompletely labeled or misidentified by employees, while 18% of the samples did not match the species name listed on placards or labels. On a positive note, all samples of Chilean sea bass, coho salmon and bluefin and ahi tuna were correctly labeled. But, the tests also revealed that all samples of lemon sole, and over half of the samples of red snapper were actually other types of fish. Many of the catfish, grey sole, grouper, halibut, king salmon, sockeye salmon and yellowfin tuna samples were also mislabeled.
The problem is caused by several factors, including deliberate document falsification, identification mistakes made after processing at sea and poor oversight by inspectors, who tend to focus resources on food safety concerns. However, in an effort to combat misbranding and fraud, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently equipped five of its field laboratories with DNA sequencing equipment that will be used to test a sampling of imported and domestic fish before they are shipped to retail, an FDA spokesperson told Consumer Reports.