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Rampant Fraud Revealed in This Global Food Business, New Data Says

Potentially lethal pufferfish were found in roasted fish fillet products on sale in one country.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Before you visit the seafood counter at your local grocery store or grab your favorite fish sandwich from the drive-thru, you might want to double-check the source. A bombshell report is exposing "fraud on a vast global scale" in the seafood industry.

After analyzing more than 40 seafood studies across more than 30 countries, The Guardian revealed the findings of its new research this week. More than 9,000 seafood samples were reviewed, and a whopping 36% were found to be incorrectly labeled. (Related: The Saddest Restaurant Closures in Your State)

The highest instances of mislabeling took place in the U.S. and Canada, followed by Europe across the Atlantic. One of the studies analyzed by the researchers looked at "snapper" sales; nearly 40% of the fish were mislabeled. The biggest culprits in this case were Canada and the U.K., where mislabeling occurred a rate of 55%.

In Europe, restaurants were repeatedly caught fooling the scales. There was a 50% chance that diners weren't served what they had ordered off the menus in front of them. On occasion, one type of tuna was possibly swapped out for another. How many palates can really sleuth bluefin from yellowtail?

Pig DNA was detected in prawn balls that purportedly contained no prawn in Singapore. Perhaps most alarming—and criminal—of all was the revelation that potentially lethal pufferfish had been found in roasted fish fillet products on sale in China. (Related: It's Dangerous to Eat A Lot of This Type of Seafood, Study Says)

How on earth (or undersea) is this even happening? According to The Guardian, seafood is "one of the most internationally traded food commodities" with an underregulated supply chain. In addition to being "relatively easy," mislabelling can result in huge profit margins for fraudsters.

To help you become a more savvy seafood shopper, we turned to the experts at SeafoodWatch.org. Here are a few simple tips:

  • Salmon, tuna, and shrimp are the three most sought-after types of seafood, but you can help support sustainability by broadening your tastes. "Look for options like arctic char, barramundi, clams, lingcod, mussels, sablefish (also known as black cod), scallops, sole, oysters, pompano, rockfish, sanddabs, seaweed and U.S.-farmed trout," they suggest.
  • Don't be shy to ask the person serving you one of the following questions: "Do you happen to know where this comes from?" or "Do you know whether this is wild or farmed?"
  • The more you can learn about the fish's origins, the easier it will be to perform a quick-check using SeafoodWatch.org's rating tool to evaluate whether the product you're interested in is good for you—and the planet.

If this inspires you to forgo this week's Friday fish fry, it's still not too late to try these 17 St. Patrick's Day Recipes Better Than a Pot of Gold. To get all of the latest grocery news delivered right to your email inbox every day, sign up for our newsletter!

Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at <em>Eat This, Not That!</em>, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more
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