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Large Percentage of The Most Highly Traded Seafood Sold In The World Is Mislabeled

A survey by the Oceana group found that up to 30 percent of America's favorite seafood is being misrepresented and the practice may extend to the rest of the world.

In the only known study of its kind in the U.S. DNA testing confirmed that 30 percent of the 143 shrimp products tested from 111 grocery stores and restaurants were misrepresented. Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation, found that consumers are often provided with little information about the shrimp they purchase, including where and how it was caught or farmed, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make informed choices.

"The results are not suprising," said marine biologist Nancy Bailey. "We've been tracking farmed shrimp for years and it's some of the most unregulated and mislabeled seafood in the world."

But it's not only shrimp that is the problem. About 27 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from China -- and the shipments that the FDA checks are frequently contaminated, the FDA has found. The agency inspects only about 2.7 percent of imported food. Of that, FDA inspectors have rejected 1,380 loads of seafood from Vietnam since 2007 for filth and salmonella, including 81 from Ngoc Sinh, agency records show. The FDA has rejected 820 Chinese seafood shipments since 2007, including 187 that contained tilapia.

Texas Tech University researchers have recently found evidence of antibiotics -- one a suspected human carcinogen -- after testing farm-raised shrimp samples of international origin in imported seafood going directly to grocery store shelves.


Overall, 35 percent of those 111 vendors sold misrepresented shrimp. Of the 70 restaurants visited, 31 percent sold misrepresented products, while 41 percent of the 41 grocery stores and markets visited sold misrepresented products.

- The most common species substitution was farmed whiteleg shrimp sold as "wild" shrimp and "Gulf" shrimp.

- Forty percent of the 20 shrimp species or categories collected and identified were not previously known to be sold in the U.S.

- No samples that were labeled as "farmed" were mislabeled, while over half of the samples labeled simply "shrimp" were actually wild species.

- A banded coral "shrimp," which is an aquarium pet not intended to be consumed as food, was found commingled with another unidentifiable shrimp in a bag of frozen wild salad-sized shrimp.

- New York City had the highest amount of misrepresented shrimp at 43%.

- Products from Washington, D.C. and the Gulf of Mexico region were misrepresented about one-third of the time.

- In Portland, only 5% of products were misrepresented, the lowest rate among regions investigated.

- Overall, 30% of the shrimp products surveyed in grocery stores lacked information on country of origin, 29% lacked farmed/wild information and one in five did not provide either.

- The majority of restaurant menus surveyed did not provide the diner with any information on the type of shrimp, whether it was farmed/wild or its origin.

Shrimp Growing Operations Are Toxic

Most shrimp growing operations worldwide are toxic to human health. Greenpeace reported "to grow asmany shrimp as possible and maintain overcrowded populations, largeamounts of artificial feed and chemical additives, including chlorine,are added to this destructive cocktail. Malathion, parathion, paraquatand other virulent pesticides are also sprayed on the pools."

"With millions of shrimp crammed together in ponds, diseases can run rampant, in some cases severely enough to kill off entire ponds and even a country, entire shrimp industry. On average, an intensive shrimp operation only lasts for seven years before the level of pollution and pathogens within the pond reaches a point where shrimp can no longer survive," reports Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group.

Consumers may wish to choose their shrimp more carefully for many important social and ecological reasons. For instance, consumers may wish to avoid shrimp caught in fisheries that are not responsibly managed, that have high rates of waste or discards, or that are associated with human rights abuses.

Big-Box stores and their subsidiaries are generically the worst places to buy seafood from. Unless organic, they typically are the first to accept genetically modified foods and compromise the integrity and safety of their seafood supply.

Americans eat about three times more shrimp than we did 35 years ago. To satisfy our insatiable appetite, the U.S. has become a massive importer: About 94 percent of our shrimp supply comes from abroad, from countries such as India, Indonesia, and Thailand.

At the same time, consumers may wish to avoid farmed shrimp due to health and environmental impacts. Similarly, consumers may want to actively choose shrimp caught from nearby wild populations in the U.S., rather than shrimp caught overseas, or they may wish to purchase shrimp that are farmed using state-of-the-art techniques that minimize pollution and provide ecological benefits.

Most labels and menus do not provide consumers with enough information to make such choices. There is very little information provided, and in many cases, the information given about shrimp misrepresents the actual identity of the product. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to make informed choices.

Oceana found misrepresented shrimp everywhere it tested, including rates of 43 percent in New York, NY, 33 percent in Washington, D.C., 30 percent in the Gulf of Mexico region (Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, FL; Mobile and Orange Beach, AL; Biloxi and Ocean Springs, MS; New Orleans and LA, Louisiana; and Houston and Galveston, TX) and 5 percent in Portland, OR. Oceana defined misrepresentation as products that were mislabeled (one species swapped out for another), misleading (e.g. farmed species labeled as "Gulf"), or mixed/mystery (e.g. commingling species among bagged shrimp).

Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP) is an inorganic compound mostly used for preserving frozen meat and seafood products. Used in trace amounts, STPP preserves the water content inside the flesh.

Food and safety specialist Ivan Mandadi stated, "it's time we all started boycotting seafood from many asian countries who refuse to clean up their exports...Canada and U.S. food inspection agencies are simply not doing their job."

Misrepresenting shrimp not only leaves consumers in the dark, but it also hurts honest fishermen who are trying to sell their products into the market. Instituting full-chain traceability and providing more information at the point of sale will benefit all stakeholders in the supply chain, from fishermen and seafood businesses to consumers. Traceability can also prevent illegally caught seafood from entering the marketplace and deter human rights violations around the world, while giving consumers the information they need to make fully informed, responsible seafood choices.


Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.

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