Seafood is a popular and healthy food choice for many Americans. The United States, trailing only behind China, is the second largest fish consumer in the world. The American Heart Association, as well as the 2010 dietary guidelines from the U.S. Government, both advise eating eight ounces of seafood, or two seafood meals a week, particularly because of their “heart healthy” omega-3 levels.
However, U.S. consumers are often given inadequate, confusing or misleading information about the fish they are actually buying. There are two major areas of concern for consumers looking to keep fish in their diets: genetically modified fish and proper labeling of fish.
Genetically Engineered Salmon
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently (and quietly) approved genetically engineered (GE) salmon. A new biotech company claims that its GE salmon, which is designed to grow twice as fast as unaltered fish, will be “safe, healthy, and pose little threat to the environments.”
But according to leading experts, there are many potential and threatening problems that may cause significant harm to the environment and to people consuming GE fish. Their GE salmon would be raised in farms and would most likely have many of the same nutritional differences that unaltered farmed salmon already have in comparison to wild salmon. These differences include:
- lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids and higher levels of contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) according to a report from Environmental Science and Technology.
- different vitamin, mineral and amino acid levels than non-GE salmon, and slightly higher levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGI-1), which has been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume. 92, No 18, September 20, 2000.
In addition, GE foods have also been shown to cause allergic reactions. Because there have not been any long-term studies on the safety of eating transgenic, the consequences of approving the GE salmon as a food for humans unknown.
The company plans to raise only sterile fish. But the FDA has called this claim “potentially misleading” because up to 5 percent of these fish may be fertile. The company claims that the fish will be raised in closed facilities and pose no threat. But if this type of GMO farming is done in Asian countries, how will they regulate and keep these fish from being released in the wild? Worldwide, the primary method of raising salmon is in open-net pens in the ocean, and millions of farmed fish escape these facilities every year. These escaped fish may easily out-compete with wild fish for food, space, and mating opportunities, as they often exhibit higher aggression and risk-taking than wild fish. These GE salmon are designed to eat more and grow faster than wild salmon potentially leading to the extinction of both wild and transgenic fish in that region according to the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 58(2001) at 842-3.
Mislabeling of Fish
Another problem shown in recent news concerns the seafood labeling fraud in the United States. From 2010 to 2012, Oceana conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world to date, collecting more than 1,200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states to determine if they are truly the seafood they claim to be.
DNA testing showed that one-third, or 33 percent, of the 1,215 seafood samples were mislabeled, according to the U.S. FDA guidelines. This study was restricted to retail outlets, including restaurants, sushi venues and grocery stores. Whether on the boat, during processing, at the retail counter, or somewhere else along the way, these would be the venues where the fraud could originate. The key results include:
- Mislabeling was found in 27 of 46 fish types tested (59%).
- Salmon, snapper, cod, tuna, sole, halibut, and grouper were the top collected fish types. Snapper (87%) and tuna (59%) were the most often mislabeled fish types.
- Only seven of the 120 red snapper samples were genuine red snapper.
- Between one-fifth to more than one-third of the halibut, grouper, cod, and Chilean sea bass samples were not labeled properly.
- 44% of all the grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues visited, sold improperly labeled seafood.
- 84% of the white tuna samples were actually escolar, a species that can cause serious gastrointestinal issues for some individuals who eat more than a few ounces.
Another concerning point is that more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and less than 1 percent is inspected by the government for fraud and safety concerns including the high levels of pesticides, banned chemicals, and toxins found in often unregulated Asian seafood.
With all this in mind, what can consumers do to reduce and avoid these potential health risks?
- Do not be afraid to ask more questions, including what kind of fish it is, if it is farm raised or truly wild, and where, when and how it was caught.
- Be sure to check the price. If the price is really cheap, it probably is fraudulent and not the quality of seafood that it states it is.
- When possible, purchase the whole fish which makes it harder to deceive you and swap one species for another.
- Go fishing! Check out your local lakes and fish the cleaner lakes (i.e. Norris and Douglas Lakes). Be sure to avoid the bottom dwellers and larger fish where more contaminants are and longer exposure to harmful chemicals/pollutants. You will need a fishing license and a trout stamp if fishing for trout.
For Oceana’s full national seafood fraud report, you can check it out here.
Here is a recipe using a local variety of an omega-3 rich fish we can purchase locally or catch ourselves!
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Minutes to Prepare: 5
Minutes to Cook: 14
Number of Servings: 3
- 1 large Rainbow Trout fillet (16 oz.)
- 1 lemon , sliced and organic preferred
- 1 tbsp. Tarragon
- 1 tsp. Marjoram
- 1 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ¼ tsp. garlic and/or onion powder
- Salt (whole mineral) and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray briefly with nonstick spray. Place fish fillet in center of baking sheet.
- Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange lemon slices on top of fish fillet. Sprinkle tarragon and Marjoram on top of fish fillet and lemon slices. Drizzle olive oil onto fish fillet.
- Place in oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until fish flakes well with a fork and is opaque in the center. Remove from oven.
- Divide fish into three even pieces and serve. Goes great with organic brown or wild rice and some fresh steamed vegetables or as part of a salad over fresh greens with a organic balsamic vinaigrette.
by Carolyn Burris
MS, Nutrition Counselor at
Seasons of Farragut
Carolyn Burris, an east Tennessee native, earned her Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Community and Public Health Nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her passion for helping those with nutritional needs brought her to Seasons. Carolyn particularly loves encouraging those struggling with food intolerance, obesity, fibromyalgia, and fatigue.