Senators press Obama to crack down on fraud of mislabeled seafood

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Obama administration to crack down on seafood fraud, which they call a growing problem that could lead to misspent money and endangered health for those who dine on mislabeled or misrepresented products.

"This fraud is ripping off consumers, posing health risks by disguising species that may be harmful for sensitive groups, and harming our oceans by making it easier for illegally caught product to make its way into the U.S. market," Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote in a letter to President Obama on Wednesday.

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Last year the nonprofit group Oceana reported that as much as one-third of the seafood samples it tested nationwide were mislabeled, with some species, such as the red snapper, mislabeled 94 percent of the time.

In the letter, the senators ask President Obama to strengthen border inspections to detect mislabeled seafood, establish a standard for tracing seafood, and ensure consumers know where their seafood comes from.

The senators also want the agencies responsible for detecting seafood fraud — the Food and Drug, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Customs and Border Protection — to do a better job coordinating their efforts.

They said existing regulatory efforts are "woefully inadequate."

Seafood fraud is an ongoing battle for Markey, who introduced the SAFE Seafood Act back in 2012 as a member of the House.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of the seafood that is imported to the U.S.

One common form of seafood fraud is when less expensive seafood is mislabeled so it will pass for more expensive seafood. In other instances, fish that were caught illegally are mislabeled, so they can be sold at all.

Oceana found in 2013 that 26 percent of seafood products sold in Washington, D.C., are mislabeled.