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Friday, January 18, 2013

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 appears to be growing 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 ice 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 to avoid 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 112
th Congress, S. 50 proposed directing the Departments of Commerce and of Health and Human Services, the Federal Trade Commission, and other federal agencies to combat seafood fraud; on January 26, 2012, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation reported this bill. H.R. 6200 sought to address seafood fraud by requiring labels to identify species and origin for both domestic and imported fish and by requiring a plan to coordinate FDA and National Marine Fisheries Service seafood inspection.

This report reviews recent incidents of fraud and deception and examines related policy issues.

Date of Report: January 2, 2013
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RL34124
Price: $29.95

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