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Fish mislabeling happens often, Consumer Reports says

October 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Do you really know what kind of fish you're eating? The mislabeling of seafood happens more often than you may think, and it can cost you money.

According to the latest research, eating fish can help protect your heart and lower your blood pressure and risk of stroke. But a just-released investigation conducted by Consumer Reports shows people aren't always getting the fish they're paying for.

The investigation included the DNA testing of 190 samples of fish. Although the fish was purchased on the East Coast, Consumer Reports said you may not be getting the type of fish you wanted no matter where you buy it.

Americans spent more than $80 billion on seafood last year - that's up $5 billion from the year before.

"Our secret shoppers bought 190 samples of 14 different kinds of fish - red snapper, salmon, sole and others. They went to more than 50 retail stores and restaurants in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut," said Kim Kleman with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports testers packed pieces from each sample and sent them off to an outside lab. Technicians extracted DNA from each sample to determine what kind of fish it was.

The results? Only four of the 14 types of fish bought were always identified correctly.

The biggest discrepancy was lemon sole. Of the 10 samples, not one turned out to be lemon sole. The red snapper purchases also proved problematic. Of the 22 samples, only 10 were actually red snapper.

"Fish passes through so many hands from the time it's caught to the time it's sold that it's hard to tell where the mislabeling occurs or whether it's intentional. That makes the process very difficult to police," Kleman said.

Consumer Reports' findings are in line with other recent studies that show some 20 to 25 percent of seafood around the world is mislabeled. But until seafood can be more closely monitored, there really is no way to be sure you're getting what you're paying for.

Current legislation in the Senate would strengthen cooperation among the different federal agencies that oversee seafood safety, including the Food and Drug Administration. Consumer Reports endorses this legislation as a good first step in more closely monitoring the labeling of seafood.