Study Reveals Widespread Seafood-Labeling Fraud

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credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC)- Could you taste the level of mercury in your sushi? Distinguish white tuna from escolar? Detect if the salmon in your dish is farmed or wild?

Restaurants and grocery stores sometimes chance that customers can’t tell the difference, and mislabel the seafood they sell, according to a study conducted by ocean conservation organization Oceana.

Researchers studied and tested the DNA of more than 1,200 samples of seafood in more than a dozen U.S. metropolitan areas. In the D.C. region, they found that only 3 percent of seafood in grocery stores was mislabeled versus 40 percent in restaurants and 81 percent of sushi.

Some types of fish were mislabeled more often than others.

For example, all of the supposed snapper samples taken in the District were incorrectly labeled. They actually contained tilapia, madai and white bass.

Nationwide, according to Oceana senior scientist Kimberly Warner, 87 percent of product with snapper on the label was not snapper. About 25 percent of cod and grouper samples and 20 percent of halibut samples were mislabeled and farmed salmon was often called wild salmon. Seafood with high mercury levels was often labeled to indicate it was safer.

Other highlights from the D.C.-specific study include:

More than one in three of the 58 retail outlets visited in D.C. sold mislabeled fish. Both sushi and restaurant seafood mislabeling rates exceeded national averages, but grocery mislabeling rates were one of the lowest in the country. Only two of the 33 grocery stores visited sold mislabeled fish, while seven of 13 restaurants visited sold mislabeled fish.

Escolar was substituted for white tuna in every sushi venue tested. Escolar is not related to tuna at all, and can cause unpleasant digestive effects due to a naturally occurring toxin in the fish.

One expensive restaurant in the nation’s capital swapped the imperiled Atlantic halibut for the more sustainable Pacific halibut advertised on the menu.

To see the full Oceana study, visit the organization’s website.

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