Fraud: California Crackdown on Menu Mislabeling
According to the SF Gate an “upscale restaurant” called Odeum in Morgan Hill, Santa Clara County was passing off tilapia as petrale sole for more than a year; fish fraud. After an investigation by the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office the fish switch will cost the restaurant $120,000 in restitution and civil penalties.
California Getting Tough on Fish Fraud
This latest effort is more evidence that California is getting tough on menu mislabeling when it comes to seafood. In 2015 the City Attorney in San Diego nailed 8 sushi restaurants for deceiving customers. Not only did they earn themselves criminal convictions but they were required to reimburse law enforcement for the cost of the investigation.
Enforcement is Key
News of today’s action illustrates just what the Better Seafood Board has been saying all along. We don’t need new laws we need effective implementation of laws that exist.
Often cited in reports on “fish fraud” are the efforts of the conservation group Oceana. But it’s focus on expanded regulation illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to this type of fraud and what works in policing it. The laws, rules and regulations we need are already on the books. This is an issue of enforcement. Whether it’s the City Attorney in San Diego going after menu mislabeling or the U.S. Attorney’s office in North Carolina securing felony mislabeling convictions, investigation and prosecution is the answer.
Editorial Review for Livestrong Seafood List
You’d think an organization like Livestrong would be careful about making sure everything they put on their site was accurate, honest and trustworthy. When it comes to the group’s latest posting, a seafood list by Lynette Arceneaux, did not meet the high bar that, given the history of their founder and his “serial deceptions,” most would assume they’d prioritize.
Good for Livestrong for helping patients, caretakers, and survivors of cancer. Sure, the organization’s founder has an unfortunate past, but maybe the group has a bright future. However, posting erroneous nonsense with little or no editorial oversight doesn’t do them any favors.
The article 13 Types of Fish to Avoid Eating is teeming with misinformation and fails utterly as any sort of legitimate nutrition resource.
Arceneaux begins her seafood list by telling consumers to avoid wild Chilean Sea Bass. Which is curious because there’s no such thing as farmed Chilean Sea Bass. A red flag right off the bat that perhaps the author isn’t quite an expert on the subject matter. She then goes on to highlight, for sustainability reasons, which specific South Pacific islands consumers should sources their Sea Bass from. What she doesn’t tell you, or perhaps know, is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requires “pre-approval of each [Chilean Sea Bass] import” as part of its catch documentation work. So, regardless of which island it came from it’s monitored to ensure it’s sustainable and legal.
She then offers consumption advice about Tilefish from the author of a book that warns against eating fish. Oh and he’s also under investigation in Canada for after claiming he can “cure cancer with wheat grass suppositories and a diet of raw vegan food.” So it’s good to see Livestrong is staunchly vetting their experts these days.
And from a practical stand point Arceneaux’s admonition to avoid Bluefin tuna makes little sense at all. No doubt it’s got a poor sustainability story but Americans eat, per capita, about the weight of a few paperclips in Bluefin every year. Yet she takes up precious space on her non-scientific seafood list to warn consumers about it? Okay.
She wraps up the seafood list with a sweeping generalization that “if you buy grocery store tuna rolls, understand that most are made from substandard seafood.” Here she is just flat out wrong and offers no way to verify her claims except a conversation she had with a restaurant chef. The same chef who claims you can’t trust grocery store sushi because the “seafood supply chain isn’t tracked very well.” Once again, they are both make claims that not a single shred of independent evidence can back up.
Ultimately, it’s sad that Livestrong would allow this kind of hyperbolic click-bait to populate its site. A once highly regarded organization fighting to regain its credibility might consider taking this post down as part of an editorial review.
Greenpeace: Trailblazer in Fake-News
The press may have taken a sudden interest in “fake news” organizations—which per Wikipedia “deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media”—but Greenpeace, early pioneers in the genre, have been at that game for years.
Their rehashed attack on Walmart is just the latest example. Greenpeace’s Canadian franchise recently created a Twitter account handled “Walmart Great Values” (@WMGreatValueS), which brazenly copies trademarked content from the chain’s actual grocery brand, Great Value, with only minor distinctions that could easily escape casual observers. Moreover, the account page contains no indication that it is a parody, spoof, or commentary account, as the Twitter terms of service clearly require.
The account even links to a fake website, GreatValues.info, that immediately redirects to a landing page on Greenpeace Canada’s site—where hoodwinked readers are just a click away from Greenpeace’s latest fundraising pitch.
Another funny thing: For an account that’s a couple of months old, it sure has a lot of followers. Over 13,000, to be exact. And these are not exactly Greenpeace diehards, but a seemingly random assortment without any unifying traits or characteristics. In fact, the fake Walmart account is followed by fewer than a dozen Greenpeace or Greenpeace Canada followers. Let’s say that again: fewer than a dozen users follow both the Fake Walmart and Greenpeace accounts. It sure looks like Greenpeace purchased these followers, one of the hallmarks of these fake accounts.
Despite the fake news disseminated by Greenpeace, posing as Walmart, the reality is that tuna is caught sustainably all over the world, everyday and the severely restrictive methods Greenpeace favors would actually greatly increase the carbon footprint of the industry. No amount of fake news can change that.
While Greenpeace surely justifies to donors its pioneering use of fake news to raise funds, let’s keep in mind who their brethren in the faux headlines business are; race baiters, hoaxers and political extremists. Wonder if Greenpeace will highlighted their new found friends in its annual report this year?
As Greenpeace gears up for another rank’n’spank effort where it passes judgment on which canned tuna brands are supposedly the most and least sustainable (with no independent scientific input) watch out for another round of fake news from Greenpeace.
MSN Lifestyle Article Cans Up Some Alternative Facts
MSN Lifestyle reporter Jessica Suss appears to be caught up in the new alternative facts movement. Her latest article on canned tuna claims in the headline that Research Suggests Canned Tuna Might Not Be Safe to Eat. However… um… yeah… that’s not what research suggests.
Jessica starts her reporting with this blanket statement, “It’s no secret that large-scale fishing operations are bad for the environment.” Really? Since we’re talking about tuna why don’t we look at the very latest in independent research that finds large-scale tuna operations are actually better for the environment than the practices promoted by eco-label initiatives? Maybe a little research into that sweeping claim would have been appropriate, but I digress.
Jessica then asserts that, “current research suggests you can safely eat two meals including canned tuna a week” and then tacks on that “some scientists disagree.”
Let’s look at the first part first. The latest published, peer-reviewed research on this topic comes from the Food and Drug Administration and its study on how much seafood pregnant women can eat. This research is called The Quantitative Assessment of the Net Effects on Fetal Neurodevelopment from Eating Commercial Fish. Perhaps worth a read by someone who is writing on research into seafood consumption.
The FDA’s research finds that pregnant women can eat 56 ounces of canned albacore tuna a week and 148 ounces of canned light tuna. That’s either 14 meals a week or 37 meals a week… not two. And these “limits” only apply to a very specific sub-population: pregnant women. No one else.
Now let’s look at the second part. Here’s where some creative editing and sourcing comes into play. Jessica says research suggests canned tuna might not be safe to eat and she finds a researcher who agrees. But where she finds that researcher is curious. Jessica links to a 2015 Time.com article that does in fact include the dissenting position that she advocates in her article but if you actually click on the link and read the article that’s not the narrative you find. In fact, the Time.com article finds 3 of 5 experts agree that tuna is safe to eat and concludes that the article is “your green light to go fish.” Not quite the way Jessica portrayed it.
This MSN article lands somewhere between click bait and alternative facts… not great real estate if you’re at all interested in credibility.
Mislabeling Study Continues Trend of Headlines but Not Headway
A recent study from researchers at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University checked the DNA of fish ordered at 26 L.A. sushi restaurants over four years and found that 47% of the sushi was mislabeled.
It’s an alarming number and it’s not unique from research completed in different cities by other universities, news outlets, and NGOs. Fraud is illegal, and reports like this help shine a light on the necessity of regulators to be more stringent about enforcing laws that crack down on this criminal act.
What is also alarming, however, is the suggestion that this research indicates the fraud “may occur earlier in the supply chain than the point of sale to consumers.” That may be the case but this conclusion is not based on science or the research completed here.
The study, similar to the previous research in other cities, only completes 2 out of 3 steps.
To find out where the real fish fraud happened, researchers need:
- A menu showing what the fish is called
- A DNA sample of the fish
- An invoice from the restaurant showing what fish they ordered from a supplier
If the invoice says the restaurant ordered snapper, and the menu says it’s snapper, but the DNA test shows it’s tilapia, then you know the restaurant was not at fault and thought it was providing customers with snapper. If the invoice says the restaurant ordered tilapia, the DNA test shows it’s tilapia, but the menu calls it snapper, then you know the restaurant purposely changed the name of the fish on the menu, but knew that the fish they were providing was really tilapia.
This is not rocket science.
The senior author of the study claims that “one has to think that even the restaurants are being duped.” Why? His own research is not able to tell where the switch happened and he even notes in the same release, “it’s hard to know where in the supply chain it begins.” It’s irresponsible to publicly opine about fraud happening at the supplier level when this particular research provides no evidence to demonstrate that.
In this case it would appear to have taken four years to solve half a riddle. Perhaps resources would be better spent solving a whole riddle. Yet another study that says “we found fraud,” without providing any real insight into where the fraud happened or who is responsible for it, makes headlines but doesn’t make headway in solving this challenge.
Illegaler is not a word
Lawmakers in New York state have passed a new law aimed at ensuring consumers know what they’re buying when they purchase fish labeled “white tuna.” The regulation requires any fish sold in a restaurant or market as “white tuna” to come from tuna. Thus making it illegal to label fish, like for instance escolar, as White Tuna.
Well good for them. The Empire State just made fish fraud illegal…er.
Here’s the issue; it has always been illegal to label a fish like escolar as white tuna. ‘Cause… um… it’s not tuna. The Food Drug and Cosmetic Act says misbranded food is illegal. All New York needed to do is enforce laws that are already on the books.
So before other states go running off passing laws that make kidnapping, drug dealing and bank robbery illegal, keep in mind enforcing the laws that already exist can be just as effective and the offenses just as illegal.
Focus on the Facts When it Comes to Fukushima
The latest reports from Oregon say “for the first time, seaborne radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear” accident has reached the West Coast. More importantly, the same articles report that researchers have found the “levels are extremely low and don’t pose a danger to humans or the environment.”
That means seafood is and continues to be safe. If you have any questions about the latest science on Fukushima and seafood visit www.FukushimaFishFacts.com
MSN Misses the Mark on Mercury
MSN currently features a highly misleading article by Grant Stoddard of BestLife [“The 40 Unhealthiest Foods if You’re 40+”, November 19, 2016.) It peddles in dangerous falsehoods about tuna consumption, and appears to come from an unvetted source with no track record of credible writing on nutrition.
When Mr. Stoddard writes about albacore tuna as being “high in mercury” and “could lead to cognitive decline” he is directly contravening both federal guidelines and the scientific consensus. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets limits for mercury in seafood at 1.0 parts per million (ppm). This limit includes a ten-fold safety-factor built in, meaning a fish would have to exceed 10.0 ppm to approach levels of concern. According to the FDA, the average can of albacore has 0.35 ppm and the average can of light contains 0.1ppm. This important perspective is left completely out of this reporting.
If that mercury limit were a speed limit, light tuna would be traveling 5.5 mph in a 55mph zone and albacore would be traveling 16.5 mph. Both demonstrably safe and healthy.
In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommends Americans eat at least two servings of seafood per week. They also specifically recommend tuna as a healthy option.
Stoddard’s article ignores these facts, and contributes to the dangerous notion that nutritious, affordable, and accessible seafood sources like canned tuna should be avoided based on ancient and over blown mercury fears. This isn’t an inconsequential error. Unnecessarily scaring consumers away from seafood contributes to an ongoing public health crisis that contributes to 84,000 preventable deaths each year according to Harvard University research.
Watch this space to find out if MSN decides to correct the record or if they’ll let poorly researched misinformation stand as nutrition advice.
A mixed bag of reporting from the Washington Post
The Washington Post features what it calls “A user’s guide to buying seafood” today. And they get… some of the story right.
They’re spot on when they write:
- “Do you avoid seafood for fear of contaminants, such as mercury and PCBs? Those fears are largely unfounded, experts say.”
They hit the nail on the head when they note:
- “One thing not to do is move away from the fish counter because you’re in fear, which is certainly understandable with all the information swimming around.”
They’re in lock step with science when they announce:
- “Many studies have concluded that the benefits of the Omega-3 fats in seafood outweigh the potential harm from contaminants.”
Bucking the trend of inaccurate hyperbole they nail it when they ask:
- “Should you buy wild or farmed seafood? It may not really matter, since both are safe to eat.”
But the column’s weaknesses include the fact that the author identifies an “unwillingness to experiment with something new” as the “problem.” “The problem” that should be addressed from a public health perspective is American don’t eat enough seafood. While Americans eat 15.5lbs of seafood a year they eat 70lbs of red meat.
Your average cardiologist isn’t particularly worried about a lack of variety in America’s seafood diet but they are concerned that Harvard researchers have found low omega-3 intake to be the second biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the U.S, taking 84,000 lives per year.
The column finds fear of things like PCB’s in fish to be “largely unfounded.” Yet makes suggestions about how those who are “concerned about contaminants” can avoid them in seafood. This would have been a great opportunity to dispel the myth of PCBs in fish for that confused and concerned population rather than playing into the fears.
Independent, peer-reviewed research from Harvard University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports seafood broadly makes up only 9% of the PCBs in the average American diet, while products like vegetables make up 20%. No health professional is suggesting people eat fewer vegetables.
Columns that help Americans eat more seafood are a benefit to public health and this one will certainly help some head in the right direction. But hand-wringing over “consumer confusion” followed by a multitude of lists to consult and apps to download actually contributes to the problem. Americans are hardly eating enough seafood to realize the benefits let alone introduce harm.
Did you know the FDA’s own research finds pregnant women can eat 164 ounces of light canned tuna a week without introducing risk? That’s 41 tuna sandwiches a week. Hope you’re hungry mom.
A Washington Post column once tackled this issue before and concluded “the best advice is simply to eat fish; the data show that the benefits outweigh the risks.” Simple and straight forward.
An Accurate Tilapia Tale
Tilapia has a storied history as a healthy, affordable whitefish that has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years. But with its meteoric rise has come a torrent of misinformation. Even for an unassuming seafood staple the axiom; heavy is the head that wears the crown, holds true.
Today’s edition of The Bulletin features an interesting look at the nutritional profile of Tilapia and the distortions that so often accompany reporting on the fish. Here is a case where a reporter actually probed the hyperbole so often printed about Tilapia and came up with a much different and more accurate perspective.
The expose’ finds:
- Nutritionists are frustrated by the lingering negative opinion of Tilapia.
- Experts find, “It’s a very nutritious fish.”
- The nutritional comparison of Tilapia to bacon is derided as “ridiculous.”
- Healthcare providers say dietary misinformation about Tilapia is “scare-mongering of the worst sort.”
In addition to debunking some of the more absurd claims about Tilapia, the story helps examine healthy fats and even aquaculture. It’s worth a read.