Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, sent a letter Monday to President Barack Obama urging him to take administrative action on seafood fraud, a widespread issue that puts fishers and seafood consumers around the country at risk.
The letter calls for the president to direct the Food and Drug Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other relevant agencies to strengthen border inspections for seafood imports, establish standards for seafood traceability, improve interagency communication and ensure that consumers have access to information about their seafood choices.
“Americans consume a large and growing amount of seafood, over 90 percent of which is imported,” Capps said. “Fraudulent seafood poses health and financial risks to seafood consumers and fishers across the country, and yet our current system for fraud detection and enforcement is woefully inadequate. President Obama can strengthen our seafood supply by directing federal agencies to take stronger, more coordinated actions on seafood imports and ensure that key information follows seafood from the ocean to our plates.”
Seafood fraud can take many forms, including mislabeling low-quality fish as high-value species, processing with substances that increase a product’s weight, or misrepresenting the country of origin, catch method, or whether the product was wild caught or farm raised. Mislabeled seafood can have health consequences for unwitting consumers including unsafe levels of contaminants, digestive disruptors, and lower levels of healthy components such as omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood fraud also harms consumers who pay premium prices for high-quality seafood only to receive lower-value products. Furthermore, American fishers are affected when they are undercut by lower-value, potentially fraudulent imports, some of which are caught using environmentally harmful methods.
Capps is the lead sponsor of legislation (House Resolution 1012) that would establish traceability standards and strengthen interagency coordination and enforcement to combat seafood fraud. She and co-sponsor Walter Jones, R-N.C., on Monday requested a hearing on the bill in the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
"The federal agencies can take steps to help stop seafood fraud, yet their current efforts are inadequate," said Beth Lowell, Oceana campaign director. "As Congress considers legislation to stop seafood fraud, Oceana appreciates Rep. Capps' leadership and the support of other Members of Congress in urging the administration to find interagency solutions to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legal and honestly labeled."
A recent Oceana study conducted DNA tests on commonly mislabeled species in restaurants, grocery stores, and sushi bars in 21 states, and found that 33 percent of tested seafood was mislabeled. In Southern California, 52 percent of tested seafood was mislabeled. Because the seafood supply is very complex and there is no standard of traceability, seafood fraud can occur at any level of the supply chain, making it nearly impossible to determine where the fraud occurs. Without adequate information at the point of purchase about seafood’s origins, consumers can be easily defrauded and cannot make informed, responsible market decisions.
On Sunday, Oceana released a letter signed by more than 450 chefs from around the country in support of H.R. 1012.
— Chris Meagher is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.