Friday, June 3, 2011

Seafood Fraud Hurts Consumers

Back on April 7th, I did a piece on mislabeled foods. Based on the findings of a class in New York, I calculated that 1 out of 6 foods (16.7%), may be mislabeled. I thought this was an outrageously high number. However, calculations regarding fish and seafood, released to the press last week, make my numbers look comparatively optimistic.

According to one Seattle news site, after a year of sporadic DNA testing, the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) concluded that one third (33%) of fish imports have been mislabeled. Also released, was a report from the independent watch dog group, Oceana. The report entitled,“Bait and Switch: How Seafood Hurts our Oceans, our Wallets and our Health,” claims that fish and shellfish are mislabeled up to 70% of the time.

People intending to buy North West Red Snapper may actually be buying Catfish, Rockfish, Tilapia, Nile Perch, Mahi Mahi or the less sustainable Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper. You just bought some Grouper? Maybe you did, or you may've brought home filets of Catfish, Hake, Tilapia, Pollock or Nile Perch. Packages of Bluefin Tuna may in fact include Bigeye Tuna or Yellowfin Tuna. And, while it's hard to mistake another fish for Salmon, given its pink flesh, Salmon at your local grocery store may very well come from a fish farm, to spite the words “wild-caught” on the label.

Some people may be shrugging and thinking, "Last night's fish tasted good, whatever it was. Who cares?" Well, I can think of many reasons why consumers should care they're being duped. I covered many of these reasons; moral & legal objections to fraud, possible food allergies, and some consumers' attempt to buy sustainable foods; in my April piece. Since this is a food blog though, let's talk about flavor.

I'm most familiar with Salmon, so I'll use them as my example. When Salmon swim in the wild, they burn fat. When caught, eaters are sold fish which is mostly protein laced with a moderate amount of Omega-3, healthy fat. On the flip side, farm Salmon, which have less room to swim, develop a higher ratio of fats, and these fats are the less heart healthy Omega-6 fats. While increased fat content translates to increased flavor in beef and pork, farm raised Salmon are left with an oily taste and texture due to the higher fat content. Thus, when farm raised Salmon are labeled as being wild, consumers are being tricked into buying an inferior product for the price of a superior one.

So, what can consumers do to make sure they're getting what they're paying for? Eaters with means can ideally, drive to a coastal town and buy seafood as it comes off the boat. Barring that, buying shellfish in the shell and scaly fish with their heads and tales in tact, won't tell the average buyer if the purchase was wild caught or farm raised, but it's a good way to ensure you're at least buying the right species. Those of us who are fiscally incapable of buying a whole fish at a time, need to find a seller we trust and rely on that seller, even when rival supermarkets advertise, seemingly great, sales.
Summer's here! If you're lucky enough to come across a whole wild Salmon this summer, here's what you do.

Grilled Salmon Recipe

1 whole salmon,
1 large lemon,
1 large red or white onion,
olive oil,
salt & pepper to taste

Stuff your Salmon with slices of lemon & onion, and a few sprigs of fresh parsley. Season the inside with salt & pepper to taste, drizzle the skin with olive oil, wrap the fish in a double layer of aluminum foil, and seal both ends. Bring your outdoor grill to maximum heat and place the Salmon on the grill. Cook approximately 10 minutes per inch measured at the thickest part (usually 40-50 minutes total cooking time), and make sure to flip it every 10 minutes. To test for doneness, make a small incision in the thickest part near the backbone. If there is any visible transparency, the fish is not done. The fish will be opaque when fully cooked.

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