- One in four unpackaged seafood items is mislabeled in New York state with a strong suggestion of intentional mislabeling, according to a new report for the Office of the New York State Attorney General.
- Lemon sole, red snapper, grouper and salmon labeled "wild" according to the report are likely to be incorrectly labeled and in some cases, an entirely different — and cheaper — fish.
- "In cases of mislabeling, the tendency of the substitute fish to be a cheaper species suggests that intentional misconduct in the supply chain may play a role," reads the report.
Seafood mislabeling — often referred to as "fish fraud" — is a known and rampant phenomenon. But understanding the size of the problem does not help to determine where in the supply chain the subterfuge takes place — or begins for that matter.
The incentive at any link in the supply chain is pretty clear. If the customer can't tell the difference, then a cheaper species can be sold as a more expensive one with little or no recourse.
The report caveats that labeling error, intentional or not, can take place at every link in the chain going back to the boat. Knowledge of the product isn't spread equally up and down the supply chain. Ignorance, after all, is what allows the fraud to persist, and consumers are not the only ones guilty of not knowing what the species they've chosen should look like.
"Supermarkets are the last line of defense before a phony fish ends up as family dinner, and they have a duty to do more," said Attorney General Barbara Underwood in a statement.
The AG put the onus on the retailer to be the arbiter of authenticity here and suggests the following:
- Look for third-party accreditation of seafood suppliers.
- Require suppliers to sign a document committing to faithful labeling and agreeing to consequences if fraud is found.
- Create internal specifications for each product to be shared with suppliers.
- Insist on thorough labeling throughout the supply chain.
In-store training, labeling and auditing are also necessary to continue the checks through to the customer.