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April 15, 2014 > Legislation targets mislabeled seafood

Legislation targets mislabeled seafood

Submitted By John D. Mann

Senate Bill 1138, sponsored by State Senator Alex Padilla, addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling and its effects on public health, consumer choice, and sustainable fishing practices.Ê The bill was approved by the Senate Health Committee on a bipartisan vote of 8 to 0 mid-April and now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.
SB 1138 would make it unlawful for any person to knowingly sell mislabeled seafood.Ê Spending on seafood in the United States has grown to more than $80 billion annually.Ê Unlike beef produce, state law does not provide clear guidance regarding accurate labeling of seafood. The lack of standards has led to high rates of mislabeling throughout our state.Ê In a recent survey by Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, 84% of Southern California sushi samples were mislabeled and 58% of restaurants visited in Northern California mislabeled their fish offerings. SB 1138 is modeled after similar legislation passed in the state of Washington.

"This bill is a common sense measure to allow consumers to know exactly what kind of fish they are purchasing and consuming," said Brian Baird, Director, Ocean and Coastal Program, The Bay Institute and Aquarium of the Bay.Ê "The Aquarium educates the public and many area businesses about making sustainable seafood choices, which depends on accurate seafood labeling.Ê We applaud Senator Padilla for introducing this bill."

In 2013, Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, released the results of a nationwide study on fish sampled at retail outlets, such as restaurants, grocery stores and sushi bars including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Monterey and found:

¥ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ 84% of sushi samples were mislabeled in Southern California
¥ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ 58% of restaurants visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish
¥ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ 52% of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Los Angeles and Orange Counties
¥ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ 38% of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Northern California
¥ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ 27% of grocery stores visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish
¥ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Southern California leads the nation in mislabeled fish

While seafood is an excellent choice in a healthy diet, seafood mislabeling can lead to the consumption of seafood that is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Certain species of fish can have unhealthy levels of mercury or can cause severe allergic reactions.Ê The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives a clear warning about the dangers of mercury to fetuses, infants, and children. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that women of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding avoid eating certain fish such as swordfish and shark.

Seafood mislabeling also undermines conservation efforts and threatens at-risk species. Conservation efforts rely on an informed public making responsible and sustainable choices. However, it is difficult to make sound choices if seafood is mislabeled. Between 1950 and 2006 the worldÕs annual fishing haul more than quadrupled, from 19 million tons to 87 million tons. The Census of Marine Life, a decade-long international survey of ocean life completed in 2010, estimated that 90% of the big fish had disappeared from the worldÕs oceans, victims primarily of overfishing.

Senator Alex Padilla represents the more than 1,100,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District in Los Angeles.

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