Protecting the health, safety, and welfare of citizens is the highest priority of a regulatory agency. Both Federal and State legislation recognizes that the mislabeling of seafood can harm consumers in many ways.
Mislabeled seafood can create serious health risks, including conditions which may even be fatal.
- Escolar substitution
- Ciguatera toxins
- Scombroid food poisoning
One of the most common substitutions occurs in sushi restaurants where escolar is substituted for tuna. In fact, the substitution of escolar or oilfishes for tuna is so widespread in sushi restaurants, that upon inspection, it would be more likely than not a regulator would find the substitution occurred. Escolar, which is much less expensive than tuna, is a fish with a diet high in wax esters. Since these wax esters are not digestible, these wax esters have a laxative effect in humans. The laxative effect is not merely an inconvenience, but can be very serious. In fact, the FDA recommends, "Escolar should not be marketed in interstate commerce" and the Hawaiian Legislature is considering legislation to ban escolar for the same reasons.
A very common foodborne illness in fish is Ciguatera, which is caused by eating certain reef fishes whose flesh is contaminated with toxins. When fish are collected from certain areas known to contain these toxins and are mislabeled, consumers may be seriously injured. Because ciguatoxin is very heat-resistant, consumers cannot protect themselves by cooking these contaminated fish. Furthermore, the symptoms of this disease can be debilitating and last up to 20 years. Thus, unless regulators ensure the consumer is protected, the consumer could be the victim of Ciguatera resulting from mislabeling fraud.
Scombroid food poisoning is a foodborne illness that results from eating spoiled (decayed) fish. Scombroid is most commonly reported with certain species of fish. In these species of fish, ensuring the proper storage conditions of the fish is of paramount importance to preventing illness. Freezing, cooking, smoking, curing and/or canning do not destroy Scombroid toxins. Thus, unless regulators are able to ensure the species of fish claimed is the correct species, regulators may not have enough information available to them to insure consumer safety.
Pregnant women are warned against eating certain fish during pregnancy. Most notably, the fish not recommended for consumption during pregnancy are shark, tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel.