Ah, shrimp cocktail. Or is it “unidentified crustacean cocktail?” Apparently, we consumers need to explore that issue because even our shrimp isn’t necessarily shrimp.
Oceana, a conservation group dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, recently tested the DNA of 143 “shrimp” products sold in 111 U. S. stores and restaurants. Granted, the study did not sample all shrimp across America but Oceana did cover some geographic significant areas. Among those, New York City was the worst, with 43% misrepresentation; Washington, DC showed 33% misrepresentation; the Gulf of Mexico region, encompassing parts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, showed 30% misrepresentation and Portland, Oregon showed 5% misrepresentation.
The study found that fully 30% of the products across the board were misrepresented: mislabeled, with one shrimp species labeled as another; misleading, with supposed “Gulf” shrimp that were actually farmed shrimp; or mixed/mystery, comingled species with crustaceans normally sold for home aquariums or simply unidentifiable by DNA (in other words, they can’t figure out what that thing is).
Are you still hungry for shrimp? We’ll cure that. You might ask what difference it makes, as long as the shrimp-looking-thing is slathered in cocktail sauce. First, mislabeling matters particularly for connoisseurs, who pay more for royal red shrimp or rock shrimp because those delicacies taste like lobster. Too often, according to the study, they receive a more common species among the literally thousands of shrimp species. They’re paying for champagne shrimp but getting Colt 45 shrimp. Secondly, farmed shrimp mislabeled as “Gulf” or “wild” shrimp matters because people who look for and often pay more for “Gulf” or “wild” shrimp want more environmentally friendly, healthier products that support the shrimping industry in the Gulf of Mexico, which was hit hard by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Farmed shrimp is a cheaper, less environmentally friendly shrimp, often “white leg” shrimp. Therefore, the motives for seeking “Gulf” and “wild” shrimp are undercut by mislabeling. Finally, the problems with eating mixed/mystery shrimp, including aquarium pets and missing-DNA-linked crustaceans, should be self-evident because you don’t know WHAT you’re eating.
Still another complication is the fact that more than 40% of the world’s shrimp is grown on foreign farms in Southeast Asia and South America, which do not have rigorous standards. Too often, the water is polluted and the shrimp farmers are free to use antibiotics and chemicals such as fertilizer, pesticides and preservatives. What is more, there are often environmental impacts such as the loss of key wildlife habitats and increased pollution. Finally, some foreign farms employ slave labor. Consequently, steering clear of foreign-farmed shrimp seems the smart move.
How, then, can you guard against shrimp mislabeling? By and large, you can’t at this point. A bill called the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act has been introduced in the House and Senate but is languishing in both. The Act would require record keeping to show the location and date on which seafood is caught, which will help somewhat. In the interim, you can check the package or ask the restaurant about the country from which the shrimp originates: the U. S. does currently require COOL – “Country of Origin Labeling” – which will help you steer clear of foreign farms. You can ask a restaurant about the eco-certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for farmed shrimp: the Northern shrimp from Canadian fisheries and the pink shrimp from our Pacific Coast; however, that shrimp is supposedly not sold directly to consumers, so you cannot look for the eco-certification in a grocery store. Finally, you can check for and inquire about any misrepresentation, mislabeling or mixed/mystery violations to the Food and Drug Administration, which pursues actions against fraudulent food sellers, here http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/default.htm
DO’S AND DON’TS
DO check the package or ask the restaurant about the country from which the shrimp originates: the U. S. does currently require COOL – “Country of Origin Labeling” – which will help you steer clear of foreign farms.
DON’T buy or eat shrimp from Southeast Asia or South America.
DO ask a restaurant about the eco-certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for farmed shrimp: the Northern shrimp from Canadian fisheries and the pink shrimp from our Pacific Coast.
DO check for and inquire about any misrepresentation, mislabeling or mixed/mystery violations to the Food and Drug Administration, which pursues actions against fraudulent food sellers, here http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/default.htm
By Kathy Catanzarite
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
CONSUMER FRAUD DOS AND DON'TS