Sep 19 2014

California Seafood labeling Bill could mean mass consumer confusion, say retailers and NFI

Reposted by permission: © SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Wall St. Journal ] By BEN DIPIETRO | Sept. 19, 2014


 

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A coalition of grocers and retailers and the seafood industry’s main trade association say a proposed law in California that would change the names under which seafood is sold in an effort to combat fraud is misguided and won’t achieve its objective.

The bill, which was approved by the California State Legislature and only needs the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown to become law, would mandate all seafood sold in the state be listed by its common name as well as its market name. Seafood in the state currently is sold using its market name.

Some examples of how the bill would affect labeling include herring being listed as Ilisha, Chilean seabass being listed as Patagonian toothfish and shrimp having to be called by names such as roshna prawn, jack knife prawn or caramote prawn.

Supporters of the measure, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the environmental activist group Oceana, say the change will address the problem of seafood mislabeling, which has been found to be widespread throughout the country. Oceana has conducted DNA tests on seafood purchased around the country between 2010 and 2012, and found 33% of its samples were mislabeled, with the number rising to 38% from stores and restaurants in Northern California and 52% in Southern California.

The bill also would provide more detailed information to consumers who need to know the specific species to avoid allergies or to avoid fish with excessive levels of mercury, or because they want to avoid fish from areas they consider overfished or environmentally vulnerable, said Ashley Blacow, Pacific policy and communications manager at Oceana.

“The market name refers to many species and actually obscures the identity of seafood, ” Ms. Blacow said. “But if provided the common name, consumers are able to make more informed purchasing decisions for their personal health…It means some allergen-sensitive consumers could enjoy some species of seafood while avoiding other species that could cause them problems. ”

As long as the common name is used, nothing in the bill prevents seafood sellers from using the market name to help people who are familiar with those terms, Ms. Blacow said. “Some people are more familiar with the market name but there are consumers who are trying to make very conscientious decisions for their own health or ocean sustainability reasons, so it’s critical those consumers who are looking for that information can find it. ”

Opponents say the measure will only cause confusion as it will put California at odds with the laws of the federal government and the other 49 states. As an example, mahi mahi would also have to be labeled as dolphinfish, its common name. “Our customers, who know and are accustomed to seeing ‘mahi mahi’ would think that they are buying dolphin meat, which will most certainly result in confusion, ” said a letter sent to the governor by the California Grocers Association, California Retailers Association, National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

The retailers say federal law already prohibits mislabeling of seafood, and mandates seafood labels be accurate and truthful. They say the U. S. Food and Drug Administration has created the Seafood List, which says the industry can call a fish by its market name or its common name. The law would also create additional regulatory burdens and likely lead to an increase in the price of seafood, they said.

The retailer groups say they supported a labeling bill in Washington state signed into law in May 2013 that said the common name could be either the acceptable market name or common name as provided in the FDA’s Seafood List. They say they must oppose the California measure because it “runs afoul of this state and industry supported approach. ”

The main U. S. seafood industry trade association, the National Fisheries Institute, said if approved the bill will add nearly 1,850 new common names to the vernacular and to menus. “Is California cracking down on seafood fraud or muddying the water further? We would support efforts to ensure stronger enforcement but this bill does no such thing, ” an NFI spokesman said in an email.

Gov. Brown hasn’t given any indication of whether he will sign the bill, Ms. Blacow said.


 

Photo Credit: Lobster Place

John Sackton, Editor And Publisher
SeafoodNews.com 1-781-861-1441
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