Canada needs EU style traceability laws to fight fish fraud

A Canadian study has revealed that 44 per cent of seafood samples from food retailers and restaurants were mislabelled, indicating a very high level of food fraud.

The nationwide investigation, said to be the most extensive ever conducted in Canada, found that the problem was particularly acute in restaurants where more than half (52 per cent) of the samples tested were mislabelled.

“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,” says Oceana Canada, which carried out the study.

The recommended solution? EU-style food traceability legislation to track fish “at every step from capture to consumption,” says Oceana, pointing to significant declines in fraud rates in Europe since the legislation came into force. It also notes that the US has also made moves in this direction with “boat to border” traceability for certain species at risk of fraud.

Oceana says that 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,” it asserts.

Drilling down into the data reveals that 100 per cent of all samples of snapper, yellowtail and butterfish were mislabelled, along with 50 per cent if sea bass and over 40 per cent of sole and tuna.

Snapper was typically substituted with rockfish or tilapia, while yellowtail was often Japanese amberjack and butterfish was found to be escolar – known to cause stomach upset when eaten in higher quantities.

“Seafood fraud, which describes any activity that misrepresents the products being purchased, is a massive issue, but most Canadians don’t even realize they’re being cheated,” says Julia Levin, Seafood Fraud Campaigner, Oceana Canada.

“Beyond economic concerns, seafood fraud creates food safety and health risks, threatens our oceans, cheats honest fishers and vendors, and creates a market for illegally caught fish, which masks global human rights abuses.”

Of the 177 food businesses assessed, 64 per cent sold mislabelled fish (114 businesses). Fraud was detected in 70 per cent of the restaurants tested (95 out of 136 restaurants) and 46 per cent of the retailers (19 of 41 retailers).

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