Seafood fraud is a global problem that hurts our health, our wallets and our oceans. A 2016 review of more than 200 published studies from 55 countries found that one in five seafood samples were mislabelled.1
Results of testing done by Oceana Canada in 2017 and 2018 show that Canada is no exception. Of the nearly 400 samples tested from food retailers and restaurants in five cities, 44 per cent were mislabelled.
The problem is particularly prevalent in restaurants, where more than half of the samples tested were mislabelled.
This national investigation into seafood fraud and mislabelling — the most comprehensive ever conducted in Canada — found cheaper haddock and pollock substituted for cod; farmed salmon served up as wild salmon; and escolar (a fish banned in many countries because of its health risks) masquerading as butterfish or white tuna. Meanwhile, every single sample of so-called “red snapper” tested was actually another species. Those are only a few examples of mislabelling uncovered in this study.
This creates food safety risks for Canadians. It also threatens the health of our oceans and cheats consumers as well as honest fishers and vendors.
What makes mislabelling on this scale possible? The global seafood supply chain is obscure and increasingly complex. Once a fish has been caught, it can travel halfway around the world for processing, passing across many national borders before it ends up on your plate.
That’s why full-chain traceability is crucial. The European Union is leading the way with measures to track fish at every step from capture to consumption. These traceability regulations are working: fraud rates have declined significantly since they were put in place. The United States has recently taken important steps in this direction by implementing boat-to-border traceability for at-risk species groups.
It’s time for Canada to do the same. Mounting evidence shows seafood fraud is an urgent, widespread issue across the country that needs attention from the federal government.
Unfortunately, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) new Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, which come into effect at the beginning of 2019, fail to address the problem of seafood fraud. Despite CFIA’s own research showing the prevalence of seafood mislabelling, Canadian regulations lack measures to deter seafood fraud. As a result, Canada lags well behind international best practices.
In order to stop seafood fraud and ensure that seafood sold in Canada is safe, honestly labelled and legally caught, CFIA must implement boat-to-plate traceability requirements to protect consumers, conserve our oceans and give honest fishers and vendors the fair treatment they deserve.