Report: Widespread Fish Mislabeling Raises Public Health Concerns

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More landmines on the path toward feeding your family healthy, nutritious food: a new report by the conservation group Oceana finds fish in New York City restaurants and grocery stores are widely mislabeled — with some fish being sold containing harmful toxins. From The New York Times:

Some of the findings present public health concerns. Thirteen types of fish, including tilapia and tilefish, were falsely identified as red snapper. Tilefish contains such high mercury levels that the federal Food and Drug Administration advises women who are pregnant or nursing and young children not to eat it.

Ninety-four percent of fish sold as white tuna was not tuna at all but in many cases a fish known as snake mackerel, or escolar, which contains a toxin that can cause severe diarrhea if more than a few ounces of meat are ingested.

“There are a lot of flummoxed people out there who are trying to buy fish carefully and trying to shop their conscience, but they can’t if this kind of fraud is happening,” said Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana, who led the study.

With fish, what you buy isn't always what you get, a new report finds. (Source: Oceana)
With fish, what you buy isn't always what you get, a new report finds. (Source: Oceana)

Here are the report's key findings, from the Oceana news release:

--58 percent of the 81 retail outlets sampled sold mislabeled fish (three in five).
--Small markets had significantly higher fraud (40 percent) than national chain grocery stores
--100 percent of the 16 sushi bars tested sold mislabeled fish.
--Tilefish, on the FDA’s do-not-eat list because of its high mercury content was substituted for red
snapper and halibut in a small market.
--94 percent of the “white tuna” was not tuna at all, but escolar, a snake mackerel that has a toxin
with purgative effects for people who eat more than a small amount of the fish.
--Thirteen different types of fish were sold as “red snapper,” including tilapia, white bass, goldbanded jobfish, tilefish, porgy/seabream, ocean perch and other less valuable snappers.

The report follows earlier studies that found fish mislableling in cities across the U.S. An Oceana news release says: "Everywhere seafood is tested, fraud has been found. In fact, Oceana and others recently found shocking levels of mislabeling in the Boston (48 percent), Los Angeles (55 percent) and Miami (31 percent) areas."

An earlier investigation by The Boston Globe that also found area restaurants routinely mislabeling fish — and continue to do so.

This program aired on December 11, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.