SAFE Seafood Act to fight mislabeling, fraud

A new bill to combat fish fraud was introduced this week, following recent studies that showed widespread mislabeling of fish.

The SAFE Seafood Act, which formerly was introduced as the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act, would require information collected by fishermen such as type of fish caught, location and how the fish was caught to be available to consumers, according to a statement on U.S. Rep. Ed Markey’s website. Markey introduced the bill Wednesday.

Additionally, the bill would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) increased power to “refuse entry of unsafe or fraudulent seafood shipments,” the statement reads.

In addressing both agencies, the act aims to increase coordination and eliminate duplication of inspections to make the process more effective and efficient.

Overall, the bill seeks to protect consumer health while also protecting the investment they make in the seafood they buy. Most mislabeled fish are actually cheaper or less desirable fish than their labels imply, according to the bill’s summary. Fish fraud also undermines fishermen who are following the law.

The legislation follows several recent reports that highlight major and widespread instances of fish mislabeling. In one report from the advocacy group Oceana found that approximately one-third of the 1,215 U.S. samples analyzed were mislabeled. Another report from the Boston Globe found 48 percent of fish samples it tested from stores and restaurants were mislabeled.

Only about 2 percent of imported seafood is inspected. More than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, according to the summary.

The bill originally was introduced during the last congressional cycle but was revamped after discussions with consumer groups, the fishing industry, conservation groups, FDA and NOAA.

The changes include adapting the legislation to conform to the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping food safety overhaul since the early 20th century.

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