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Senate health experts pass state’s first-ever seafood labeling bill put on table by Sen. Ted W. Lieu
April 25, 2012
Support bolstered by study showing alarming results
SACRAMENTO – A week after a Los Angeles study showed most seafood served in restaurants is mislabeled, the Senate Health Committee today passed a mandatory seafood-labeling bill pushed by Sen. Ted W. Lieu of Torrance.
“Senate Bill 1486 will 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. “The source of much of the seafood Californians eat remains a potentially dangerous mystery.”
In addition, tests on seafood sold at Los Angeles restaurants have revealed that more than half is not labeled correctly, according to a nonprofit environmental organization, Oceana, which conducted the study released last week.
For example, 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 seafood mislabeling 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 are essentially no relevant state or federal enforcement mechanisms identifying seafood, 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. Unlike seafood from the United States—which needs to meet federal and state health requirements—seafood from foreign countries can be inadequately regulated or completely unregulated, and may contain contaminants that US regulators would not allow.
If signed into law, California for the first time would require retail-food outlets with 19 or more similar establishments that sell seafood as a menu item to identify on 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.”
SB 1486 now faces fiscal review.
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