Seafood Dining

Are You A Victim of Bait and Switch?

Most of us would be shocked if we ordered a Mercedes Benz and the dealer delivered a different make and model donning a Mercedes hood ornament. After all, when we order a product we should get precisely what we paid for. Yet, more often than we think, unconscionable situations like this occur when we dine out. Millions of us order “wild salmon” from menus and are served farm-raised salmon instead.

Recent studies indicate that as much as one-third of all seafood in the United States is being mislabeled, including both fresh and frozen.

So what is the United States government doing to regulate the seafood industry?

Unfortunately, the government has its hands full and there is no system of checks and balances in place to regulate seafood mislabeling. Approximately 90% of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, with only about 2% inspected by the FDA (regulatory agency). According to the GAO 2009 Report, while the U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Commerce (NMFS), and the FDA conduct several activities to help detect and prevent seafood fraud, these agencies primarily focus on food safety and undertake few fraud-related activities.

U.S. Customs scans all seafood entering the country, but does not monitor the accuracy of the labels. Their main concerns are unsafe materials and radiation.

With only 2% of seafood imports in the United States undergoing inspection before entering the market, unscrupulous seafood processors and distributors are substituting cheaper, more available species for more expensive ones. When bait and switch occurs, the products that restaurants and chefs end up with are not in line with their sustainable objectives. And there are also health concerns.

When you ask for a certain species, but you get something different than what you ordered, there’s a very real opportunity for a potentially dangerous health situation for children and pregnant women, as well as people who suffer from food allergies.

According to “The FDA’s Guidance for Industry: The Seafood List – FDA’s Guide to Acceptable Market Names for Seafood Sold in InterstateCommerce”

The use of a false or misleading name may prevent correct species identification and thereby affect the ability of processors and consumers to make accurate assessments

of the potential safety hazards associated with seafood. Hazards such as allergenic proteins and scombrotoxin formation are associated with some species but not others, presenting potential food safety risks if the food is not accurately labeled. Misbranding may also result in economic fraud, because of the difference in the market value of different but similar species of fish.

With more health conscious Americans wanting to add seafood into their diets, using and understanding the FDA’s Seafood List is one way to protect yourself when dining at a restaurant that doesn’t have the BonafIDcatch seal. It is a listing of acceptable market names to be used for seafood sold in interstate commerce, and to assist manufacturers in labeling seafood products. An acceptable market name is one that fairly represents the identity of the species because it is not confusingly similar to that of another, or otherwise misleading.

If the menu’s description seems vague or uses unfamiliar phrases, consider referring to the Wallet Card of Acceptable Market Names available at Monterey Bay Aquarium.