Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
Oceana’s new Seafood Fraud campaign kicked off Wednesday with an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. As the Washington Post reported, it wasn’t just a press conference; it was also a seafood pop quiz.
Our campaigners asked audience members to identify skinless fillets of halibut and fluke by sight, and did the same for red snapper vs. hake and for farmed vs. wild salmon. Then they conducted a taste test between tilapia and vermilion snapper.
The result? While a few fish-savvy folks passed the tests, many people couldn’t tell the difference, which is a simple illustration of how easy it is to fool seafood consumers.
That’s one of the key points of our new report, “Bait and Switch,” which explains how 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? It stems in part from the fact that more than 80 percent of our seafood is now 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 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.
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. We’ll be sure to keep you informed as the campaign progresses.