- A U.S. District Judge has upheld the Seafood Traceability Act, clearing the law that requires seafood importers of species like tuna, grouper and swordfish to track fish species and origin to take effect on January 1, reports Food Safety News.
- The National Fisheries Institute and several seafood companies brought a lawsuit earlier this year to try and prevent the law from taking effect, saying it was passed without sufficient authority and would be too burdensome if enacted. The judge ruled against the fishing industry, writing in his ruling that the “catch-to-table distribution chain is rife with vulnerabilities” and that “activities — known as ‘illegal, unreported, and unregulated’ (IUU) fishing and ‘seafood fraud’ — have had profound global and domestic economic and non-economic consequences.”
- The law is intended to reduce instances of food fraud. International advocacy group Oceana has found that fish sold in restaurants and grocery stores are sometimes not the advertised species, and consumers can get less expensive or inferior substitutes.
The U.S. imports about $10 billion worth of seafood annually, accounting for 90% of the fish Americans eat each year, according to Food Safety News. Tracking all the different varieties of fish and their origin as required by the Seafood Traceability Act is complicated, and the industry claims implementing these measures could cost them millions annually.
In his ruling, District Judge Amit Mehta indicates otherwise, stating that even the highest estimated costs would be “only a fraction, less than one-half of one percent of the value of U.S. seafood imports.” So for now, it looks like the law will take effect at the beginning of next year.
What this means for American consumers is increased transparency about the food they eat and assurance that the fish they’re buying is indeed authentic. Transparency around the seafood space has grown in light of reports of seafood fraud and indications that slave labor may be used to harvest fish in certain parts of the world. Shoppers also want to know more about the quality of their seafood, given the potential for high mercury levels in fish.
Still, it’s unclear whether the average consumer really cares that much about seafood traceability or sustainability efforts. A recent study by researchers at Vancouver Island University and Duke University finds that consumers care more about taste, price and texture when buying fish, and less about its sustainability. Whether the fish is farmed or wild; if it’s local; health benefits and risks; and sustainability ranked fairly low on shoppers' lists of concerns.
Since few consumers really know how to gauge what fish is safe, they rely heavily on retailers to ensure safety. In fact, 94% of shoppers say they trust their grocery store to ensure the food they purchase is safe, according to the Food Marketing Institute's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study.
Some retailers already have programs in place to address seafood traceability in their outlets. Publix discloses all of the fisheries used to source its wild-caught seafood as part of an alliance with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and Ocean Disclosure project. Hy-Vee has transitioned 100% of its sushi offerings to sustainable sources and now offers seafood only caught in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. With food safety and increased transparency top of mind for many shoppers, it would be wise for more grocers to implement similar seafood merchandising strategies — especially since the new law is likely to make it much easier.