Saturday, November 1, 2014

Saturday Shorts: When it Comes to Shrimp, Caveat Emptor

Oceana, the international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation, released a report on Thursday, October 30, that has eco- and health-conscious seafood lovers reeling. Oceana used DNA testing to analyze shrimp products in grocery stores and restaurants across the U.S. and found that 30% of the samples were “misrepresented.” [Oceana defined misrepresentation as products that were “mislabeled (one species swapped out for another), misleading (e.g. farmed species labeled as ‘Gulf’), or mixed/mystery (e.g. commingling species among bagged shrimp).”]

Following are some highlights from the Oceana press release:

“In the only known study of its kind in the U.S., DNA testing confirmed that 30 percent of the 143 shrimp products tested from 111 grocery stores and restaurants were misrepresented. Oceana also found that consumers are often provided with little information about the shrimp they purchase, including where and how it was caught or farmed, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make informed choices. 

‘Despite its popularity, U.S. consumers are routinely given little to no information about the shrimp they purchase,’ said Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana. ‘While shrimp is the most commonly consumed seafood in the U.S., and the most highly traded seafood in the world, its high demand has led to conservation concerns as well as a bait and switch on consumers.  Without tracking what, where and how our seafood is caught or farmed, and ensuring that this basic information follows the product through each step in the supply chain, shrimp will continue to be misrepresented.’

Oceana found misrepresented shrimp everywhere it tested, including rates of 43 percent in New York, NY, 33 percent in Washington, D.C., 30 percent in the Gulf of Mexico region and 5 percent in Portland, OR…”

The report’s other key findings include:
  • “The most common species substitution was farmed whiteleg shrimp sold as ‘wild’ shrimp and ‘Gulf’ shrimp.
  • Forty percent of the 20 shrimp species or categories collected and identified were not previously known to be sold in the U.S.
  • Overall, 30% of over 400 shrimp products surveyed in grocery stores lacked information on country-of-origin, 29% lacked farmed/wild information and one in five did not provide either.
  • The majority of the 600 restaurant menus surveyed did not provide the diner with any information on the type of shrimp, whether it was farmed/wild or its origin.”
and, perhaps the most alarming finding:
  • “A banded coral ‘shrimp,’ which is an aquarium pet not intended to be consumed as food, was found commingled with another unidentified shrimp in a bag of frozen salad-sized shrimp purchased in the Gulf.”
What’s a concerned consumer to do, other than to avoid shrimp altogether? 

Monterey Seafood Watch offers recommendations for shrimp purchase, but they are only as good as the information on the label. 

In June 2014, President Obama created a dedicated government task force to combat seafood fraud and help keep illegally caught fish out of the U.S. market. Oceana is encouraging the task force to “take a comprehensive approach to addressing these issues, including requiring traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. to ensure that it is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.” Oceana invites concerned consumers to sign their petition here

Shrimp aren’t the only seafood with a sometimes fishy pedigree. In a study released in 2013, Oceana found that one third of the over 1200 samples of seafood they analyzed were mislabeled. Red Snapper was mislabeled 93 percent of the time; 28 different species of fish were identified in 120 samples of “red snapper.”  The highlights of the report are summarized in this infographic.

Caveat emptor.

Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall  being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).

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