May 28th, 2011
Caption graphic by Nigel Upchurch
Econintersect: Problems that exist in seafood markets include possible toxic contamination, simple mislabeling to pass cheap fish as expensive and misguided consumption of farmed seafood as a way of conserving the wild species. Some fresh water fish, such as those in the northeastern U.S., including even the large Lake Champlain, have heavy metal contamination (especially mercury) at sufficient levels that consumption more than a few times a year is considered a health risk. Those contaimants have come from coal burning plants to the west that have spewed contaminants into the west-to-east prevailing winds. Follow up:
“Customers buying fish have a right to know what the heck it is and where it’s from, but agencies like the F.D.A. are not taking this as seriously as they should,” said Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist of the nonprofit group Oceana, referring to the Food and Drug Administration.
On Wednesday, Oceana released a new report titled “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health.” With rates of fraud in some species found to run as high as 70 percent, the report concluded, the United States needs to “increase the frequency and scope” of its inspections.
DNA bar coding, as it is called, looks at gene sequences in the fish’s flesh. “The genetics have been revolutionary,” said Stefano Mariani, a marine researcher at University College Dublin, who has published research on the topic. “The DNA bar coding technique is now routine, like processing blood or urine. And we should be doing frequent, random spot checks on seafood like we do on athletes.”
Policing the seafood industry has historically been challenging because even the most experienced fishmongers are hard pressed to distinguish certain steaks or fillets without the benefit of scales or fins. And many arrive in supermarkets frozen and topped with an obscuring sauce.
But the problems don't stop with the above. As New Zealander Nigel Upchurch recounts in the short video below, eating farmed fish is far from environmentally friendly, contrary to what many people believe.
An article in the New York Times describes how yellowtail is passed as mahi-mahi in fish markets, Nile perch as shark, catfish as grouper and tilapia as a variety of more expensive fish. From the NY Times: