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November 6, 2014

United States

Washington DC—Rebuttal to Oceana’s Shrimp Mislabeling Report

 

On October 30, 2014, Shrimp News posted an item titled United States—Washington DC—Oceana Says 35% of Shrimp Mislabeled in National Geographic Article.  On the same day, John Sackton, Editor and Publisher of Seafood.com posted an item to his website rebutting most of the claims made by Oceana.  Sackton based most of his rebuttal on information from the National Fisheries Institute, a trade association for fisheries professionals.

 

With great fanfare, Oceana put out a false report claiming that 30% of the shrimp sold in the USA is mislabeled and also blasting the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for having shrimp listed in three different categories: best choice, good alternative and avoid.

 

The big problem is that Oceana’s DNA research did not uncover any wrongdoing on the part of retailers or restaurants.  Yet it tried to spin its findings into a major scandal, part of its campaign to scare American consumers about seafood.

 

NFI’s statements appear in quotation marks below and are followed by Sackton’s comments:

 

“The majority of restaurant menus surveyed did not provide the diner with any information on the type of shrimp.”  NFI says, “This is not fraud.  Restaurants are not required to provide information other than noting that the product is “shrimp”.

 

“Forty percent of the 20 shrimp species or categories collected and identified were not previously known to be sold in the USA.”  Again, there is nothing illegal about this.  Why is this included in a mislabeling report?

 

“No samples that were labeled as “farmed” were mislabeled, while over half of the samples labeled simply “shrimp” were actually wild species.”  To suggest this finding is an attempt at fraud exposes an ignorance about how this type of scheme is intended to work.  Intentionally labeling wild shrimp as farmed or not highlighting the “wild” attribute, actually costs the merchant money.

 

“This study was not designed to be a scientifically representative survey of authenticated shrimp products typically available on all menus and grocery stores.…”  Oceana focused on wild shrimp.  Only 3% of its tests centered on farmed, while more than 75% of the market is made up of farmed, creating statistically skewed results.

 

 “Two samples from one bag were tested and found to be different species.…”  These samples did not reveal any fraud.  It is not misleading to mix different species of shrimp in a single package labeled “shrimp.”

 

We could go on.  The FAO lists 17 commercial species of shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico, although only three—white, brown, and pink shrimp, represent virtually all of the catch.  The fact that a stray shrimp of a different species may have gotten into a trawl is not a scandal, it is simply an artifact of how shrimp is fished.

 

The problem is that Oceana is trying  to create a fear among consumers of fraud where none exists.

 

The report was also remarkable for its attack on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch list.  Monterey Bay lists most Gulf white and brown shrimp as a “good alternative”.   Oceana says “consumers may be frustrated that “shrimp” can appear on the Best Choices, Good Alternatives and Avoid sections of the list, yet as research presented here demonstrates, they are often not given enough information on packaging or menus to make these distinctions.”

 

Oceana also says: “After further investigation into the shrimp categories on the Seafood Watch website, additional information shows that not all USA wild-caught shrimp are Best Choices or Good Alternatives, while some imported and domestic farm-raised shrimp (e.g. “black tiger”) are actually best choices.”  Monterey Bay says the same thing in their seafood watch list.

 

The upshot is that this report should destroy any remaining credibility of Oceana in regards to seafood labeling and fraud.  It has produced an inflammatory report from biased samples in a non-scientific manner, and criticized restaurants and retailers for following current laws. 

 

Oceana may not like the fact that retailers do not have to label their shrimp by common name, but it is not fraud when they do not do Oceana’s bidding.

 

Information: Kimberly Warner, Oceana, 1350 Connecticut Ave., NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20036, USA (phone 1-202-833-3900, toll-free 1-877-762-3262, fax 1-202-833-2070, email info@oceana.org, webpage http://oceana.org/en).

 

Source: Seafood.com (an online, subscription-based, fisheries news service).  Editor and Publisher, John Sackton (phone 1-781-861-1441, email jsackton@seafood.com).  Oceana Blasts Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Shrimp Industry, with Fictional Report of Mislabeling.  John Sackton.  October 30, 2014.

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