What Seafood Are You Really Eating? Smithsonian Mag Gets to the Bottom of Mislabeled Seafood

Something's fishy in seafood importing.

Top row: escolar (left), atlantic cod (right)Second row: nile perch (left), grouper (right)Third row: swordfish (left), mako shark (right)Fourth row: red snapper (left), rockfish (right)Bottom row: farmed salmon (left), wild salmon (right)

Top row: escolar (left), atlantic cod (right)
Second row: nile perch (left), grouper (right)
Third row: swordfish (left), mako shark (right)
Fourth row: red snapper (left), rockfish (right)
Bottom row: farmed salmon (left), wild salmon (right)

Most of that red snapper you’re eating is actually rockfish, the “wild” salmon you love so much is farmed, and that grouper you just ordered is, in fact, Vietnamese catfish.

Smithsonian Magazine reports on a company called Applied Food Technologies (AFT) that provides accurate DNA tests of seafood for food purveyors. The amount of mislabeled seafood they find on a daily basis is truly shocking.

As LeeAnn Applewhite, the founder and CEO of AFT explains, these discrepancies can occur “anytime there is a cheaper commodity that can be passed off as a higher valued one.” Check out the chart by Oceana above and see if you can tell the difference between similar-looking filets.

Because of the physical similarity, sometimes mislabeling is inadvertent, especially because 90% of America’s seafood is imported, making it much more difficult to track. Bycatch is also a contributor to this problem—it not only incites mislabeling, but causes some labs to mislabel DNA that they use to test other fish with.

Mislabeling causes health, environmental, and ethical concerns. Right now, the FDA only has the resources to test about 2% of seafood, leaving much responsibility to the food purveyor.

Applewhite believes the only way to stop this rampant seafood mislabeling would be to start holding these purveyors accountable. She says, “If there was some program to make more suppliers responsible for looking at their own supplies—some sort of DNA verification seal—that might help to reduce the problem.”

Until then, enjoy your $25 “red snapper” sashimi that is, in reality, tilapia.

[via Smithsonian Magazine]

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