Oceana finds widespread mislabeling of U.S. seafood

February 26, 2013

A study conducted by the advocacy group Oceana found that as much as one-third of seafood sold in restaurants and groceries in the United States is fraudulently labeled. The group sampled 674 retail outlets in 21 states between 2010 and 2012 and conducted DNA testing.

The testing found that one-third (33%) of the 1,215 samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. Of the most commonly collected fish types, samples sold as snapper and tuna had the highest mislabeling rates (87% and 59%, respectively), with the majority of the samples identified by DNA analysis as something other than what was found on the label. In fact, only seven of the 120 samples of red snapper purchased nationwide were actually red snapper. The other 113 samples were another fish.

Ninety-five percent of the sushi restaurants, 52% of other restaurants, and 27% of grocery stores surveyed sold mis­labeled seafood. While academics, consumer groups, and media outlets in the United States and elsewhere have scrutinized fish labeling before and found major errors, Oceana’s effort is one of the largest seafood investigations to date.

According to Oceana, the findings demonstrate that a comprehensive and transparent traceability system—one that tracks fish from boat to plate—must be established at the national level. At the same time, increased inspection and testing of the seafood, specifically for mislabeling, and stronger federal and state enforcement of existing laws combatting fraud are needed to reverse this trend.

The study did not include the names of the food stores, restaurants, and sushi houses tested because the group cannot identify specifically where in the distribution chain the fraud occurred.