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Seafood Fraud Rampant, Report Says

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The nonprofit group Oceana recently released a report informing consumers that 25 to 70 percent of certain seafood may be mislabeled. The article “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health,” details how widespread fish fraud has become in the U.S.

According to Oceana, 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported; however, only two percent is currently inspected. For example, fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod are often mislabeled 25 to 70 percent.

In 2007, the Journal-Gazette investigated ten restaurants and found at four the fish being served as walleye was actually zander, an eastern European fish percent less.  One restaurant owner admitted to purchasing zander, claiming the least expensive fish is “a higher quality.” However, Peter Waser, a biology professor at Purdue University who specializes in DNA fingerprinting and genetics, compared substituting zander for walleye to purchasing a bison burger and receiving a hamburger instead. The two meats are related but different species.

According to The New York Times, researchers use DNA bar-coding to identify a fish species without scales or fins. Researchers in North American and Europe found 20 to 25 percent of seafood products tested are fraudulently identified.

Stefano Mariani, a marine researcher at University College Dublin, said, “The genetics have been revolutionary. The DNA bar coding technique is now routine, like processing blood or urine and we should be doing frequent, random spot checks on seafood like we do on athletes,” reported the Times.

Although DNA Bar-coding is routine, some scientist claim federal agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are not taking fish fraud seriously.

“Customers buying fish have a right to know what the heck it is and where it’s from, but agencies like the FDA are not taking this as seriously as they should,” said Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist of the nonprofit group Oceana.

However, Douglass Kara, a FDA spokesman responded in an e-mail the agency is working with scientists to “validate” DNA testing. The agency recently purchased gene sequencing equipment for five FDA field laboratories and hopes to use it “on a routine basis” by the end of this year, reported the Times.

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