When you cozy up to the table to take a bite out that fish on your plate, are you being scammed? A new report by the ocean conservation group Oceana finds that a surprising number of times, Americans are not eating the seafood they think they are.
The report is based on the work of Therion International, a New York State laboratory that has conducted DNA tests of more than 1-thousand fish samples the past four years. Co-founder Will Gergits says he has been finding a significant amount of fraud. "From our studies about 50 per cent of the time in some restaurants you're not receiving that actual species. You're receiving some cheap substitute."
That figure is mainly the result of targeted studies of places suspected of making substitutions. In random tests, the fraud ranges from 10 to 20 per cent, Gergits says.
The restaurant is not always to blame. The substitution can happen anywhere along the food chain, especially overseas. Gergits says, "All of the fish are processed in one fell swoop and a buyer comes in from an importer in the United States and says, 'We want to buy grouper.' And 25 per cent of it is emperor fish. If a given fish sells for 9 dollars a pound and you can substitute it for 2 dollars a pound, you can make some good money."
The Oceana report finds 82 per cent of the seafood Americans consume is imported from foreign countries. But it charges that the level of Food and Drug Administration inspections is extremely low. According to Chief Scientist Dr. Michael Hirshfield, it's "maybe two per cent of imports." He adds that most of those inspections are for health reasons. The FDA says it hopes to start routinely using DNA testing on seafood sometime this year.
Fraud also is being committed by supermarkets. Hirshfield says it could be "not giving the accurate weight or adding extra water or extra bread crumbs." Fraud, he warns, "hurts our oceans, our wallets and ourselves."