Group alleges “widespread seafood fraud” and mislabelling in Canada

Oceana Canada reports 61% of Montreal seafood samples mislabelled, 46% in Ottawa

OTTAWA — Activists with Oceana Canada are calling on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to implement “full boat-to-plate traceability” after DNA testing allegedly showed “widespread” mislabelling of  seafood sold in Canada’s major cities. That’s based on 472 retail samples the charitable organization says it recently procured in six cities and tested for actual content.

Oceana Canada says the product did not match the label in almost half of all cases — with an overall failure rate of 46 percent.

Montreal was the worst offender in eastern Canada, according to the group’s recent investigation — released Oct. 16 — where 61 percent of samples were either a substituted species or didn’t meet the CFIA’s labelling requirements.  And in Ottawa, it says, 46 percent of seafood samples were mislabelled. Testing also took place in Victoria (67% mislabelled), Toronto (59% mislabelled), Halifax (38% mislabelled) and Vancouver (26% mislabelled), according to the group.

Oceana Canada says the latest round of testing comprises part a national, multi-year investigation it describes as “the most comprehensive study of seafood fraud and mislabeling at grocery stores and restaurants ever conducted in Canada.”“We have found farmed fish served up as wild caught, cheaper species substituted for more expensive ones and fish banned in many countries because of health risks masquerading as another species,” said Josh Laughren, executive director at Oceana Canada. “We’ve also uncovered rampant problems with Canada’s seafood traceability and labelling standards. Canadians deserve to know that their seafood is safe, honestly labelled and legally caught.”“The good news is that there is a solution: implementing boat-to-plate traceability and comprehensive labelling in Canadian seafood supply chains. This means requiring key information to be paired with fish products from the point of harvest to the point of sale,” said Laughren. “This will reduce instances of fraud and mislabelling, protect Canadian consumers, honest fishers and vulnerable fish populations, and help Canada’s seafood industry access global markets – many of which already demand stronger traceability.”The group says the approach works in other jurisdictions like the European Union, where seafood fraud rates have dropped from 23 per cent in 2011 to seven per cent in 2014.The organization also notes that Canada produces high-quality seafood, roughly 85 per cent of which is exported, while about 80 per cent of the seafood consumed in Canada is shipped from overseas. Canadian industries that sell their products in the EU are already in compliance with these requirements, yet fishers from other countries who sell their products in Canada are not obliged to provide the same level of information to Canadian consumers.

“Canada lags far behind our largest trading partners in providing Canadian consumers with comprehensive and accurate labelling information about where their seafood is coming from,” said Sayara Thurston, seafood fraud campaigner at Oceana Canada, which is petitioning the CFIA for change. “Seafood follows a complex and obscure path, often crossing many national borders before it reaches our plate. There is a risk of fraud and mislabelling at each step along the way.

“If Canada’s traceability requirements continue to lag behind those of our major trading partners, our food safety reputation is at risk,” says Thurston. “Oceana Canada is calling on the government to swiftly implement boat-to-plate traceability in line with global best practices.”

Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. The organization says it has successfully campaigned to end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat.

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