Federal Court Upholds Seafood Traceability Rule; Targets Fraud
Big business, lobbyists say it’s too costly to make sure the fish they sell is what the labels say it is
(From Food Safety News/ by Dan Flynn) — A new federal plan to combat seafood fraud by requiring the fishing industry to trace their catches from boat or farm to the U.S. border has survived a court challenge.
The Seafood Traceability Rule surfaced during President Barack Obama’s final days in office and is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. For the first time, it requires seafood importers of species like tuna, grouper, swordfish, red snapper and blue crab to track fish entering the U.S. by species and origin.
The rule is the American government’s response largely to the international advocacy group Oceana’s evidence showing fish sold on restaurant menus and in retail stores are often identified as one species on labels and menus when they are actually a less expensive or inferior species.
The National Fisheries Institute and eight individual seafood companies, however, brought a lawsuit in January to prevent the rule from taking effect.
Imports account for 90 percent of the fish Americans consume each year — ocean products worth about $10 billion a year. Tracking it all can be complicated. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, who heard the case, understands that.
He wrote that “the vast majority of seafood consumed each year in the United States either originates from the waters far from home or is caught locally but passes through a foreign processing and distribution chain.”
“Take, for example, a catch of king crab harvested off the coast of Alaska,” the judge wrote. “That crab may be sent from Alaska to South Korea or China for processing and packaging. The packaged crab meat, in turn, is exported from Asia across the Pacific to the United States, to be combined with other ingredients into a crab cake, eaten by someone with little appreciation for the peripatetic journey that produced her meal…”
Mehta, himself born in India, says the “catch-to-table distribution chain, however, is rife with vulnerabilities.”
“It is well documented that, at each stage, opportunities seek to game the system, largely by circumventing laws or norms that regulate the manner in which the world seafood market operate,” he said. “Such activities — known as ‘illegal, unreported, and unregulated’ (IUU) fishing and ‘seafood fraud’ — have had profound global and domestic economic and non-economic consequences.”