Your seafood dinner likely passed through many hands before it made its way to your plate. Fish can be caught in one ocean by a vessel flagged to a distant country, transferred at sea to a vessel flagged to another country, then offloaded for processing. The processed fish is then transported to another country (potentially on the other side of the world) for distribution and sale. This complex and often opaque supply chain can hide the true origins of seafood. Every time the fish changes hands is an opportunity for a bait and switch that can hurt our oceans, our wallets, and even our health.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently proposing new regulations that would require some high-risk foods, including seafood, to be traced throughout the supply chain. Seafood traceability can help ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.
Full-chain traceability is tracking a food from the point of origin to its final destination. Key information about the product follows it through the supply chain. For fish, this includes information about the origins of the fish and what kind of fish it is.
Last fall, the FDA proposed a new rule under the Food Safety Modernization Act that would require traceability for certain food products at every step in the supply chain, including across production, manufacturing, and retail. The list of food items includes nearly all seafood with a few exceptions. Oceana welcomes this proposed rule and encourages the FDA to make it more effective by applying it to all seafood products. The FDA is currently accepting comments on the rule until Monday, February 22. Click here to submit a comment.
In addition to improving food safety, seafood traceability can combat illegal fishing by requiring that fish be tracked back to a legal source. Seafood traceability can also help stop seafood fraud, specifically species substitution where one fish is swapped out for another. This bait and switch can include selling a lower-value fish as a more expensive one, hiding an illegally caught fish by giving it a legal identity, and even masking health concerns.
In 2011, Oceana launched its seafood fraud campaign with the goal of ensuring that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled. Seafood fraud threatens consumer health and safety, cheats consumers when they pay higher prices for a mislabeled, lower-value product, and hides harmful practices like illegal fishing, poorly regulated aquaculture, and human rights abuses.
From 2010 to 2012, Oceana conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world to date, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third (33%) of the 1,215 samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled, according to FDA guidelines.
Seafood fraud is not just a problem in the United States. In 2016, Oceana released a report detailing the global scale of seafood fraud, finding that, on average, one in five of more than 25,000 samples of seafood tested worldwide was mislabeled.
Following campaigning by Oceana, the federal government established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) in 2016 to help address illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and seafood fraud. This program required documentation and some traceability requirements for 13 types of imported seafood at risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud. SIMP was a good first step, but it did not apply to all seafood, and the tracing requirements ended at the U.S. border. This proposed rule by the FDA will help fill the gaps left by SIMP by requiring traceability throughout every step in the supply chain, including those steps within the U.S.
The Biden-Harris administration has an opportunity to expand traceability requirements to all seafood. This swift action would ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.
Tell the FDA you want all seafood traced from boat to plate. The deadline to submit comments is Monday, February 22, 2021. Click here to take action.