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It's easy to identify the bright orange flesh of raw salmon, or tuna's muted red tones. But when it comes to other types of fish, consumers are pretty much at the mercy of supermarket and restaurant labels, and fraud is rampant.
That's what NBC LA's Get Garcia hidden camera investigation found when it DNA-tested samples of fish that were purchased from local stores and sushi restaurants.
Of the 27 fish samples purchased at Ralphs, Sprouts, Pavilions, Gelsons, Whole Foods, San Pedro Fish Market and Sushi Yuzu, five were not correctly labeled. In fact, only two stores sold NBC LA samples that were 100 percent correctly labeled: Whole Foods and San Pedro Fish Market.
The substitutions, like the Ocean Perch fish that had been labeled "Red Snapper" at Gelsons, Ralphs and Pavilions end up ripping off consumers. Ocean Perch costs $6.99 per pound, but Red Snapper retails for $14.99 a pound, NBC LA points out.
In addition to the ripoff, mislabeling could also cause problems for people trying to avoid certain kinds of fish for health reasons.
NBC LA's findings echo a study released by conservation group Oceana back in April. Oceana's investigation found that over half of the seafood sold in Los Angeles and Orange counties were fraudulently labeled, a violation of federal law. Some key findings, via the press release:
- Fraud was detected in 11 out of 18 different types of fish purchased.
- Every single fish sold with the word “snapper” in the label (34 out of 34) was mislabeled, according to federal guidelines.
- Nearly nine out of every ten sushi samples was mislabeled.
- Eight out of nine sushi samples labeled as “white tuna” were actually escolar, a species that carries a health warning for it purgative effects.
To combat the fraud, Oceana released a petition Thursday calling for more robust federal standards when it comes to seafood traceability. The petition is signed by chefs such as Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Mario Batali of Pizzeria Mozza, Susan Feniger of Street and Suzanne Goin of Lucques.
Earlier this month, California Sen. Barbara Boxer also wrote a strongly worded letter to the Food and Drug Administration commissioner. Sen. Boxer pointed out that while the FDA has the authority to inspect seafood for fraud, they rarely elect to do so.