Canada’s pervasive and unchecked seafood fraud problem isn’t getting any better despite promises from the feds, an ocean conservation advocacy group says.
Oceana Canada’s seafood fraud investigation, part of a national, multi-year DNA testing study in Canada, found that 46 per cent of seafood samples tested in restaurants and grocery stores in four major Canadian cities were mislabelled.
The report found that mislabelling rates were much higher among restaurants (65 per cent) than retailers (6.5 per cent), mainly due to “Canada’s opaque seafood supply chains.”
“Buying fish shouldn’t be a guessing game, Canadians deserve to have confidence in the seafood they eat,” said Sayara Thurston, seafood fraud campaigner with Oceana Canada.
Thurston says retailers, restaurateurs and consumers are all victims of seafood fraud.
The federal government did commit to addressing the problem almost two years ago, but Thurston says they have not made any real progress.
Under the Food Policy for Canada, launched in June 2019, the Government of Canada invested $24.4 million over 5 years to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to tackle food fraud.
In March of this year, the CFIA said it’s working with stakeholders to develop a boat-to-plate traceability program for fish products in Canada.
In that same release, the CFIA also said 92 per cent of fish samples taken in their surveillance report were “satisfactorily labelled.”
Regardless, Oceana Canada revisited some of the cities where it had previously sampled seafood and found 46 per cent of the samples from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto were mislabelled (43 out of 94).
The advocacy group reported a 47 per cent mislabelling rate among 472 samples in their 2017-2019 study.
- Mislabelling rates by city: Montreal: 52 per cent, Ottawa: 50 per cent, Toronto: 50 per cent, Halifax: 32 per cent.
- Overall, there were 10 instances where products labelled as butterfish or tuna were escolar, which can cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea and is banned from sale in several countries.
- One of the species of fish is not authorized to be sold in Canada.
- Among the 13 samples labelled snapper, seven were tilapia, which is a much cheaper species.
- All the samples of butterfish, yellowtail and white tuna were mislabelled (24 samples in total)
- The mislabelling rate among retailers was 6.5 per cent, lower than the 25 per cent combined average from Oceana Canada’s previous studies. The mislabelling rate among restaurants increased from 56 per cent to 65 per cent. Because of Canada’s opaque seafood supply chains, retailers and restaurants can themselves be victims of fraud, and even correctly labelled products could have been fished illegally or unknowingly sourced from forced labour.