CEO Note: Oceana’s Seafood Fraud Campaign Kicks Off - Oceana USA
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August 11, 2011

CEO Note: Oceana’s Seafood Fraud Campaign Kicks Off

How many New Yorkers does it take to tell the difference between snapper and tilapia?

We found out last weekend, when many of Oceana’s supporters came together for the second annual Hamptons Splash, a fundraiser hosted at the beautiful home of Margie and Michael Loeb.

In addition to showing their support for saving the oceans, guests got an inside look at Oceana’s newest campaign to end seafood fraud. This common practice is hurtful to both oceans and the people who love and depend upon seafood.

Our new report, “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health,” explains how U.S. consumers are frequently served a completely different fish species than the one they paid for. Seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish such as red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, according to recent studies.

How is this possible, you ask? More than 80 percent of U.S. seafood is imported, but only 2 percent is inspected. Fraud can happen at each step of the supply chain – the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging phase.

Plus, it’s a simple question of supply and demand. As seafood consumption around the world continues to rise, so do the incentives to overfish the oceans and mislabel fish as more expensive species, such as wild salmon and red snapper.

Our new campaign will be working to convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implement a tracking system for fish that can trace seafood back to its original source. The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama in January, requires tracking systems for high-risk foods, and Oceana believe seafood should be considered a high-risk food.

In the Hamptons, we invited guests to sample two fish dishes and guess which one was snapper.

The result? At least half of the guests picked incorrectly, which is a simple illustration of how easy it is to fool seafood consumers.

As our chief scientist Dr. Mike Hirshfield told the New York Times (in what they proclaimed “Quotation of the day”), “If you’re ordering steak, you would never be served horse meat. But you can easily be ordering snapper and get tilapia or Vietnamese catfish.”

I think you deserve to know that the seafood you’re eating is what you paid for, and I’m sure the people who failed our tests would agree. I’ll be sure to keep you informed as the campaign progresses.