Seafood fraud is rampant

By December 2, 2017Meat, fish and seafood

That white tuna roll you just ordered might actually be escolar, the “laxative of the sea.”

There is increasing consumer demand for farm-to-fork supply chain and labelling transparency; however, when it comes to seafood and our oceans, “boat-to-plate” transparency is virtually nonexistent. This hurts our health, our wallets and our oceans.

This past summer, Oceana Canada conducted seafood testing in Ottawa, collecting samples from popular grocery stores and restaurants (including those known for serving sustainable seafood) and used DNA testing to compare the labels to the true identity of the fish.

The results were alarming: Nearly half of the samples — 45 of 98 — were mislabelled, as they did not meet Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) labelling requirements. A whopping 68 per cent of the sushi tested was mislabelled. Further, one-third — 33 samples — were considered species substitution, meaning the fish on the label or menu did not match the species being purchased.

Some of the more alarming instances of species substitution included harmful escolar, “the laxative of the sea,” being sold as white tuna; farmed Asian catfish sold as sole; and various types of tilapia sold as snapper. In fact, none of the nine samples labelled as red snapper was actually red snapper.

Seafood fraud includes any dishonest activity that misrepresents the product being purchased. Evidence from multiple studies over many years shows that seafood fraud is rampant globally. Clearly Canada is no exception. Consumers are given little information about the seafood they eat, and the information that they are provided is often misleading or fraudulent. It’s no surprise, then, that nearly half of us — 47 per cent — feel we do not have enough information about the fish we purchase from stores and restaurants. More than 60 per cent of Canadians are concerned about food fraud and more than 40 per cent believe they have bought a counterfeit food product at some point, with seafood as the top-selected category where fraud was experienced.