Mislabeled fish a health risk

Posted at 8:30 AM, Dec 12, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-12 08:30:02-05

NEW YORK CITY (WTVR) - Nearly 40 percent of seafood sold in New York City is mislabeled, according to a conservation group’s new report on a fishy practice that spells trouble for people with food allergies.

That's according to research from the ocean conservation group Oceana. They say their findings were based on DNA testing of 142 seafood samples collected from unidentified New York City grocery stores, restaurants and sushi bars.

Oceana previously reported fish mislabeling rates as high as 48 percent in Boston and 55 percent in Los Angeles.

Oceana said the findings are particularly troubling given that seafood ranks among the top eight food allergens. And since fish allergies are often species-specific, experts say the bait-and-switch opens the door to dangerous exposures.

Among the “most troubling substitutions,” according to the report, was fish labeled as white tuna that turned out to be escolar, a type of snake mackerel linked to gastrointestinal problems. Also, fish sold as red snapper and halibut turned out to be tilefish, which has mercury levels that land it on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “do-not-eat” list for pregnant or nursing women and young children.

A spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency had not yet reviewed the Oceana report and cannot yet comment. 

Buying fish from reputable dealers and being wary about unusually low prices can help protect consumers from fish fraud, according to the FDA. The agency also has a list of commonly substituted seafood products.