Something Fishy on Your Dinner Plate

Horsemeat found in your meatballs. Pig rectum disguised as your calamari. Unfortunately, these are not just nightmare dining scenarios but actual cases of food fraud recently uncovered around the world.

Now, as many Americans gear up to kick off their summers -- and perhaps celebrate the upcoming World Oceans Day this Saturday by enjoying some fresh seafood -- the question must be asked: Do you really know what you're eating?

In February, Oceana uncovered widespread seafood fraud across the country, finding that one-third of 1,215 seafood samples DNA tested were mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. This extensive fraud was not found in an isolated area, but in every one of the 21 states we tested, and most often involved the swapping of one type of fish for a cheaper or less desirable species.

Almost half of the retail outlets we tested sold mislabeled fish. Shockingly, almost 90 percent of the red snapper and more than half of the tuna, two species among the most popular dining choices in the country, were mislabeled as completely different species.

At a basic level, this comes down to public trust. Do we trust that the fish on our dinner plate is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled? Apparently, if we do, there is a good chance we're getting duped.

Americans have a right to know more about the food they eat. The connection from your dinner plate to the farm or sea where the food came from is an important one. Imagine ordering fresh fish from your favorite restaurant and having information about where and when the fish was caught, what species it is, and even a picture of your fishermen. This example is not a dream, as local seafood markets across the country have started implementing this kind of traceability themselves. But local is not enough -- we need nationwide traceability if we want to fully stop this type of fraud.

Fortunately, Congress is finally starting to take notice that the seafood supply chain needs to enter the 21st century. In March, Congress introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act. This bill would require traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S., tracking every fish from boat to plate. With information following fish through the supply chain, performing a bait and switch will become more difficult, and consumers can be more confident about the seafood they purchase.

This Saturday, the one day a year set aside to honor our oceans, we encourage seafood lovers to celebrate the great bounty the sea has to offer. But we also encourage anyone who cares about accountability and honesty in our nation's seafood to take a stand. Support businesses that sell traceable seafood, ask questions and take action to push for traceability in the U.S. supply chain. Americans have a right to know more about the food they eat and at a minimum, should be guaranteed safe, legally caught and honestly labeled seafood.

Beth Lowell is a campaign director at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world's oceans.

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