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Monday, July 19, 2010

Seafood Marketing: Combating Fraud and Deception

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Congress is facing questions of whether the law applicable to fraudulent seafood sales and marketing is clear and enforceable, whether agency enforcement efforts targeting seafood fraud are adequate, and whether the penalties for seafood fraud are a deterrent. Congress may become involved in oversight of how federal agencies are addressing these issues, and legislation related to these concerns may be considered.

With increased seafood imports and decreased monitoring, fraud and deception in seafood marketing is becoming more widespread. The flesh of many fish species is similar in taste and texture and, therefore, it is difficult to identify species in fillet form, especially after preparation for consumption. Thus, it can be relatively easy to substitute an inexpensive species for one of higher value. Inaccurate (low) counts or net weights ("short weighting") result in consumers receiving less for their money than advertised and anticipated. Overbreading may cause consumers to pay shrimp prices for excess bread crumbs. Excessive amounts of glaze (overglazing) can deliberately be used to increase the apparent weight, and therefore the apparent value, of the delivered product. In addition, some new treatment procedures by the seafood industry, such as carbon monoxide/tasteless smoke, are being questioned for their potential to deceive consumers. Since food safety and bioterrorism concerns have taken precedence, regulatory agencies have been less able to maintain control of economic fraud.

The extent of this fraud is not well documented. The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) has undertaken an initiative to promote economic integrity within the seafood industry, concentrating on three primary areas:

• transshipment of products subject to antidumping and countervailing duties;

• mislabeling of products or species substitution; and

• mislabeling of weights or counts of products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary agency responsible for ensuring that food sold in interstate commerce is properly labeled. FDA's jurisdiction covers seafood and the agency operates an oversight compliance program, the Seafood Regulatory Program, for fishery products. Responsibility for a food product's safety, wholesomeness, identity, and economic integrity rests with the processor or importer, who must comply with regulations promulgated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA).

In the 111th Congress, provisions were included in H.R. 759 and H.R. 2749 that proposed amending the FFDCA to restrict the use of carbon monoxide in meat, poultry, and seafood. However, on July 29, 2009, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce reported H.R. 2749, amended to remove the section relating to carbon monoxide. S. 1406 was reported by the Senate Committee on Appropriations with report language encouraging FDA to more aggressively combat fraud in segments of the seafood industry. This report reviews recent incidents of fraud and deception and examines related policy issues.

Date of Report: July 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL34124
Price: $29.95

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