In response to rampant seafood mislabeling and fraud that is hurting the bottom lines of fishermen and threatening the public health, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has now introduced the Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (SAFE Seafood Act, H.R. 6200). The bill will increase inspections, establish new labeling standards to give consumers more information about the seafood's origins, and give authority to penalize bad actor countries and companies.
The bill addresses growing concerns first raised by the Boston Globe last fall over the integrity of seafood sold in U.S. restaurants and grocery stores. Using DNA testing, the Globe found that 48 percent of the seafood it sampled from Boston area restaurants was not the advertised species. Subsequent investigations in the Los Angeles and Miami markets produced similar results.
Rep. Markey was joined by bi-partisan co-sponsors Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Bill Keating (D-Mass.) on the bill.
"Americans who buy seafood deserve to know that the fish they purchase is what ends up on their plates," said Rep. Markey, the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over oceans and fisheries. "American fishermen face some of the most stringent conservation and quality control standards in the world, and we owe it to them to make sure their product is not being undercut by foreign countries and companies selling shady shrimp, bogus bass, and counterfeit cod. It's time for everyone in the seafood supply chain to be on the hook to ensure that the fish served in restaurants and sold in stores is honest and healthy."
"When consumers choose excellent New England seafood they should get it -- not imported fish with a deceptive label," said Rep. Frank. "More than 80% of seafood is imported so it's critical that we protect our domestic fisheries from fraud and mislabeling."
"With 85 percent of seafood in the United States imported from other countries, it is critical to label these products correctly and equip American consumers to make informed purchasing decisions," said Rep. Courtney. "Connecticut's fishing industry is a significant New England tradition. Without strong labeling standards, our fishermen will continue to be undercut by other nations with inferior or non-existent consumer-protection standards. This bipartisan bill will provide peace of mind to consumers and will level the playing field for our New England fishermen competing with cheap imports."
To prevent seafood fraud, Rep. Markey's SAFE Seafood requires information that is already collected by U.S. fishermen -- such as species name, catch location, and harvest method - to "follow the fish,' and be made available to consumers, and requires foreign exporters of seafood to the U.S. to provide equivalent documentation. The bill also allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to refuse entry of unsafe or fraudulent seafood shipments, and allows NOAA to levy civil penalties against violators under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
In addition to the fraud prevention measures, SAFE Seafood addresses concerns over seafood safety raised by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a 2011 report by requiring cooperation and progress reporting. The report found that a lack of coordination between FDA and NOAA is resulting in needless duplication of seafood safety inspections at a time when resources are only allowing for 2 percent of seafood imports to be examined for safety.