U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action to address seafood fraud. In her October 15, 2012, letter, Boxer defines seafood fraud as “the mislabeling of one species of fish for another fish that is often cheaper and more readily available.” Boxer cites studies purportedly showing that the practice may be “pervasive” throughout the United States and contends that it not only constitutes “deceptive marketing, but it can also pose serious health concerns, particularly for pregnant women seeking to limit exposure to heavy metals or individuals with serious allergies to certain types of fish.” Among the studies cited are those finding mislabeled 20 percent of 88 samples tested in Boston, 55 percent of 119 samples tested in California and 31 percent of 96 samples tested in Florida.
The senator expresses her concern with the low number of inspections FDA conducts on both imported and domestic seafood and calls for “better traceability and enforcement throughout the entire chain of sale, from bait to plate.” She asks for responses to specific questions and states, “I would like to know what steps you are taking to ensure that there are adequate inspections for seafood mislabeling to ensure consumers that their seafood is safe.” Among the questions are (i) “If, upon inspection, an imported product is found to be mislabeled, can the FDA refuse the product entry into the United States? If yes, how often are mislabeled products refused entry? Are there reasons why the FDA would not refuse a mislabeled product entry?”; and (ii) “Do you share all information on inspections and inspection results with the National Marine Fisheries Service and Customs and Border Protection, even if a health risk has not been identified? If not, please explain why.”