Sushi eaters susceptible to fishy labels

2013-02-22 13:17
As the world grapples with the horse meat saga, a new study of fish bought and genetically tested by a non-profit ocean protection group Oceana has revealed some startling findings, the New York Times reports.

Out of 120 samples labeled red snapper that had been bought for testing from restaurants, markets and sushi bars a total of 28 different species of fish were found, including 17 that were not even in the snapper family.

It seems you the consumer are most likely to be misled in sushi bars while grocery stores were deemed to be selling fish honestly, according to the study. Restaurants ranked in the middle.

Part of the problem, said the study’s chief author, Kimberly Warner, is that there are quite simply a lot of fish in the sea, and many of them look alike. Over all, the study found that about one-third of the 1,215 fish samples bought, from 2010 to 2012, were mislabeled.

“Even a relatively educated consumer couldn’t look at a whole fish and say, ‘I’m sure that’s a red snapper and not lane snapper,’ ” she said.

Invented marketing names

The study goes on to confirm that some fish are given different names to bypass the real name which might not be as appealing. A fish called “slimehead” — its real name -  is probably not going to fly off the menu. Calling it “orange roughy” is apparently much better and the distinction is allowed by the Federal Food and Drug Administration according to the report . Another example is the  Patagonian toothfish which is instead called the  Chilean sea bass.

The Oceana study did not declare a fish mislabeled if the seller was following the federal guidelines.

But what the study found pervasive was mislabeling — beyond what is allowed by federal food regulators — by retail outlets using a name that consumers are more likely to want to buy. Almost two-thirds of the “wild” salmon samples, for example, were found actually to be farmed Atlantic salmon, which is considered less healthy and environmentally sustainable.

The National Fisheries Institute, a trade group, said in a statement that reputable members of the seafood community are fighting fraud, and that the federal government should “fulfill its mandate,” to enforce food fraud laws already on the books.

Dr Warner said that the study did raise some red flags about health. Fish known to accumulate mercury in their flesh, in particular, should be avoided, especially by pregnant women. But in what the study called “one of the most egregious swaps,” in New York, tilefish — known for its mercury content and on federal advisory lists for sensitive populations to avoid — was sold as red snapper. Tilefish was also found substituted for halibut.

She also cautioned that the study did not aim to produce a real scientific, top-to-bottom sampling of the seafood system. And the Oceana study’s authors also could not determine where in the food chain the mislabeling arose — the wholesaler, the retailer or at the fishing dock itself — or whether it came about through misunderstanding or deliberate concealment.

(photo: shutterstock)
Read more on:    travel international

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

SHARE: publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside Travel


#FindYourEscape with Traveller24

Your insider guide to exploring South Africa and the world...
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.