Sen. Ted W. Lieu consumer-protection bill on seafood labeling bolstered by study showing alarming results

April 17, 2012

First policy hearing on seafood-labeling bill is April 25, 2012

SACRAMENTO – In the wake of a Los Angeles study showing that most seafood served in restaurants is mislabeled, Sen. Ted W. Lieu’s bill on the issue faces its first policy hearing Wednesday, April 25 by the Senate Health Committee.

“Senate Bill 1486 would help protect public health and the environment while providing consumers a more accurate understanding of the source of the seafood they eat in restaurants,” Lieu said. “Despite federal attempts to require point-of-origin labeling, the source of much of the seafood Californians eat remains a potentially dangerous mystery.”

In addition, tests on seafood sold at Los Angeles sushi bars, other restaurants, and grocery stores have revealed that more than half is not labeled correctly, according to a nonprofit organization that conducted the study.

Red snapper, Dover sole, white tuna and other fish were often mislabeled as different species, the group Oceana found in DNA tests of seafood from 74 retail outlets in Los Angeles. In all, 55 percent of 119 fish samples from across L.A. were misidentified, Oceana said.

Oceana focused on the frequency of mislabeling rather than its origins. But Beth Lowell, director of the Stop Seafood Fraud campaign at Oceana's Washington, D.C., headquarters, said fraud can occur at any point in the supply chain, beginning when the fish is landed and through to processing, distribution and final point of sale.

Of particular concern, Lieu said, is the commercial seafood sector, where federal Country of Origin Labeling has many loopholes and exemptions – most notably seafood sold in restaurants. COOL labeling was intended to keep consumers safe and better informed about the origins of seafood.

“Unfortunately, lax seafood regulations leave more than half of the seafood sold in the U.S. without any meaningful labels,” Lieu said. “This means 90 percent of the seafood sold in wholesale markets and restaurants is unlabeled.”
In other words, there is essentially no relevant state or federal enforcement mechanisms identifying seafood, and violators face paltry fines, something that would be corrected under SB 1486.

Underscoring the seriousness of the issue, a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control study showed most food illness from seafood come from imported seafood.

If approved, SB 1486 would require retail-food outlets with 19 or more similar establishments that sell seafood as a menu item to identify as part of the menu the following: the specific species of fish; the country in which the seafood was caught; and whether the seafood was farm raised or wild caught.

Similar to California’s menu labeling bill for nutrition information of 2008, enforcement of SB 1486 would empower consumers to question the accuracy of a restaurant’s claim. Violators would face civil fines of up to $2,500.

“As our food supply becomes more global, it is more important than ever to give consumers accurate information about the seafood they eat,” Lieu said. “Our health may depend on it.”

For more, including more on the Oceana study, a Fact Sheet and Op-Ed on SB 1486 and media coverage on SB 1486, visit Lieu’s Web site at the address below or contact Lieu’s office.
Ted W. Lieu chairs the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee and represents nearly 1 million residents of Senate District 28, which includes the cities of Carson, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance, as well as portions of Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Pedro. For more, visit www.senate.ca.gov/lieu