According to a recent report and blog post from Oceana, one of the largest international non-profits working to protect the world's oceans, over 50% of sampled seafood from Southern California grocery stores and restaurants was mislabeled. Fraud was detected in 11 out of 18 types of fish purchased, with 100 percent (34 out of 34) of the 'snapper' labeling being wrong. All of the fish labeled as 'Red Snapper' in the study were substituted with Tilapia, Pollock or another species of rock fish.
Do you know what you're getting at the sushi bar?
The study also reported that nine out of ten sushi samples were mislabeled. Eight out of nine sushi samples labeled as White Tuna turned out to be Escolar, a species that actually carries a health warning for its laxative effects. Wait, what?!
Apparently, mislabeling is not only occurring on the West Coast. The LA Times reported that Consumer Reports found that 17% of total seafood samples collected from retail stores and restaurants on the East Coast were also mislabeled. The Times also mentions a Boston Globe report that saw a rate of 48% in mislabeled fish offerings in its city.
This news comes at an interesting time as we just reported on the false claims of Kobe Beef just days ago. Its obvious that consumers are being tricked, specifically at the point of purchase which gives a specific economic advantage to the retailer of the mislabeled product. Think its Kobe Beef? Well, that's just an overpriced slider.
Mislabeling For Our Benefit?
That's what restaurants and wholesalers will argue. Since we can't differentiate the fish by our palette, what does it matter? Well purveyors of fish, it matters a lot!
Consumers deserve to have all the information in front of them before making a food purchase, especially if the price of the particular food item is inflated because of the labeling. When was the last time you purchased a normal beef slider for $10? How about a spicy escolar tuna roll for $15? You wouldn't. But slide in a premier name in front of that slider or sushi roll and we'll pay for an experience. Well, that experience is proving to be more and more fabricated.
The real question that both the Kobe Beef and mislabeled fish contraversies should bring is, What are consumers going to do about it? Are we going to go about our day and act like nothing has happened? Or are we going to demand that restaurants and retailers label seafood accurately by species, country/origin and whether it is farmed or wild?
That's what California State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) introduced as legislation earlier this year, specifically for large restaurant chains. And when you think about it, large restaurant chains have the most incentive to commit fraud because of the pure number of customers and the amount of seafood demand that has to be filled.
These controversies might also just spark another momentum swing toward the farm-to-table movement, since most of these establishments claim to source locally and usually are pretty forward and prideful about their sources. But who the f--k knows?