A recent study by Oceana, an ocean conservation group, found that seafood is least likely to be mislabeled in grocery stores as compared to other venues. The group found 18% of supermarket fish samples were mislabeled, compared to 38% at restaurants overall and 74% at sushi restaurants.
There are many factors keeping retailers honest, according to Chuck Anderson, a former retailer and current director of retail sales at Pier Fish.
First, supermarkets tend to purchase seafood directly from suppliers. “The salmon farm’s not going to substitute something for you. You know you’re getting salmon from them,” said Anderson.
Large chains are able to attract the best seafood buyers, who have the most experience in recognizing fish and identifying possible fraud. These chains will also create detailed specifications for their suppliers so they know exactly what is acceptable to the retailer, Anderson said.
Trained inspectors then check all the seafood a retailer buys, especially if it goes through a central warehouse, he added.
That said, Anderson questioned the results of Oceana’s study — that one third of seafood in the U.S. is mislabeled — because the group only tested the fish that are most likely to be mislabeled.
Oceana did not test eight of the top 10 seafood sold in the U.S., he said.
“If you were to test every single piece of seafood sold in the U.S. for the last year, you’re probably looking at 5% would be mislabeled,” said Anderson.
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Ninety percent of tuna consumed in the U.S. is canned, and the vast majority of fresh tuna is not the type Oceana tested, so incidences of tuna substitution are likely much lower than found in the study (59%), he added.
“I don’t want to diminish the fact that there is mislabeling. There absolutely is, and it’s not right, and we got to fix that within our industry,” said Anderson.
However, the industry is moving in the right direction. Seafood fraud is much less prevalent than it was 30 years ago, while DNA testing and continued focus on the issue will add to its decline, he said.
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