With studies showing that seafood is mislabeled as much as 33% of the time, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) on March 6 introduced a new bipartisan version of his legislation to combat seafood fraud. The SAFE Seafood Act requires information collected by U.S. fishermen—such as species name, catch location, and harvest method—to “follow the fish,” and be made available to consumers. It also requires equivalent documentation from foreign fish producers, and expands the ability of the FDA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to refuse entry of unsafe or fraudulent seafood shipments.
But while the bill is well intended, it has a host of challenges, says Steve Otwell, PhD, a seafood expert and professor in the University of Florida’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department. “It’s basically given two agencies, the FDA and the National Fisheries Service, the responsibility to work together and collaborate more, but it has a lot of duplication of effort and concepts that already exist.”
For example, Otwell says, elements of the legislation such as species identification and traceability components are already in place, just not being used. “This effort will also require orientation and training components for inspectors and various sectors of commerce. Who’s going to pay for that? The bill mentions the Sea Grant educational program, which is a proven program that could do it, but that program is barely standing on sticks as it is to keep its head above water.”
Funding the bill’s requirements will be difficult if not impossible, Otwell says. “If you pass it onto industry, industry will pass it onto the consumer, and food costs in the U.S. are already at an all-time high with seafood one of the most expensive categories. The people at FDA and Fisheries are very talented people and they’ll struggle to do their best, but it would have been clever if the bill had included something more specific about how to deal with its requirements financially.”