59% of the ‘Tuna’ Americans Eat Is Not Tuna

Be cautious that whenever you are having tuna, it’s very likely that you’re actually not having tuna. In fact, most of the fish labeled ‘white tuna’ are really escolar, which is a type of fish that can lead to serious digestive issues, such as oily anal leakage.

59% of the ‘Tuna’ Americans Eat Is Not Tuna

These findings were revealed by Oceana, a non-profit ocean protection group, which further discovered that almost 60% of ‘tuna’ sold at restaurants and grocery stores is a completely different type of fish – and sushi restaurants were most affected with this.

Love Sushi? Skip the So-Called “Tuna” (Ahi)

What Oceana did was carry out DNA testing on over 1,200 fish samples all over the US discovering that one-third was mislabeled. Red snapper had highest mislabeling rates (87% of ‘red snapper’ samples weren’t in fact red snapper), whereas tuna was second, with 59% of mislabeling.

On the other hand, rates were much higher at sushi restaurants, with 74% of fish samples being mislabeled. Surprisingly, this involved every single sushi restaurant from which samples were tested, even in major metropolitan areas like New York, Washington DC, Chicago and Austin.

Oceana’s 69-page report stated that in a lot of cases the mislabeled fish had been replaced for cheaper, less required and/or more available fish varieties. The findings revealed that:

  • Mislabeling was found in 27 of the 46 fish types tested (59 %)
  • 87% of fish sold as snapper was actually some other type of fish
  • 59% of tuna was some other type of fish
  • 84% of ‘white tuna’ sold in sushi restaurants was actually escolar, a fish which even in small quantities, i.e. a couple of pounds, is linked to acute and severe digestive issues
  • Grouper, halibut, and red snapper were occasionally replaced with king mackerel and tile fish, two types of fish the FDA recommends that pregnant women and other sensitive groups should avoid owing to dangerously high mercury content

Only 1% of Imported Seafood Is Tested for Fraud

The real question here is how so many seafood retailers get away with selling mislabeled fish? And the answer is quite simple – no one is minds the store.

Although over 90% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported, only 1% of this is checked for fraud, which is a probable explanation of this obviously uncontrolled situation. As Oceana reported:

Our findings demonstrate that a comprehensive and transparent traceability system – one that tracks fish from boat to plate – must be established at the national level.

At the same time, increased inspection and testing of our seafood, specifically for mislabeling, and stronger federal and state enforcement of existing laws combatting fraud are needed to reverse these disturbing trends.

Our government has a responsibility to provide more information about the fish sold in the U.S., as seafood fraud harms not only consumers’ wallets, but also every honest vendor and fisherman cheated in the process – to say nothing of the health of our oceans.”

Another Reason to Avoid Tuna: It’s Normally Full of Mercury

The best source for the animal-based omega-3 fats EPA and DHA has always been fish, but with the rise of pollution levels, this extremely healthy food has become less and less suitable as a primary source of beneficial fats. This especially refers to tuna, which tends to contain higher mercury amounts.

This was substantiated by the findings of a study from the U.S. Geological Survey which discovered that ALL tuna tested contained rather high levels of mercury. It’s very likely that this contamination is even higher in restaurants, which is why eating restaurant tuna entails a considerable risk.

Moreover, another study discovered that toxicological testing revealed HIGHER amounts of mercury in restaurant-sold tuna sold than the store-bought variety. The reason behind this is that restaurants usually favor certain species of tuna, like bluefin akami and bigeye tuna, which showed much higher mercury levels than bluefin toro and yellowfin tuna.

As mercury typically accumulates much more in muscle than in fat, this renders these highly valued, leaner species of tuna more liable to high contamination.

On the other hand, restaurants typically buy larger sized fish, which owing to their size contain larger quantities of mercury. Always be cautious that the larger the fish the longer it has lived and the more toxins from the ocean like mercury it has accumulated.

Up to 80% of Salmon Is Also Possibly Mislabeled

Unfortunately, it’s not only tuna and red snapper that are generally mislabeled. Randy Hartnell, founder-president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics, explains that up to 70-80% of the fish labeled ‘wild’ salmon is in fact farm-bred. This also involves restaurants, where 90-95% of salmon is farm-raised, and may still be mislabeled on the menu as ‘wild.’ The following tips are quite helpful in determining whether the salmon is authentic:

  1. Canned salmon labeled ‘Alaskan Salmon’ is a good choice as Alaskan salmon is forbidden to be farmed.
  2. In restaurants, mislabeled salmon will normally be termed ‘wild’ but not ‘wild Alaskan.’ This is because authentic ‘wild Alaskan’ is easier to trace whereas the term ‘wild’ is vaguer and therefore more often misused. In many ways, it is much like the highly abused ‘natural’ label.
  3. No matter whether you’re in a grocery store or a restaurant, ask the seafood clerk or waiter where the fish comes from. If it’s wild, they will have paid more for it, so they’re likely to understand the value proposition. And since it’s a selling point, they will know where it came from. If they don’t have an answer for you, it’s a warning that it’s farmed. The US Food and Drug Administration is moving forward with endorsing genetically engineered salmon to be sold, and as you know, GE foods still needn’t be labeled in the US.
  4. Avoid Atlantic salmon, as all salmon labeled ‘Atlantic Salmon’ is currently bred at fish farms.
  5. Sockeye salmon cannot be farmed, so if you find sockeye salmon, it’s certainly wild. You can tell sockeye salmon from other salmon by its color. It’s bright red as opposed to pink. The reason behind this bright red color is its high astaxanthin content. Sockeye salmon has one of the largest quantities of astaxanthin of any food.

Three Helpful Ways to Determine if Seafood Is Mislabeled

When it comes to common diners, it can be virtually impossible to determine if the tuna or red snapper in your sushi is actually what it’s labeled as. Speaking of which, there are some ways to protect yourself against widespread seafood fraud:

  1. Be inquisitive. Consumers should ask more questions, including what kind of fish it is, if it is wild or farm-bred, as well as where, when and how it was caught.
  2. Check the price. If the price is too good to be true, it is most likely a completely different species than what is on the label.
  3. Buy the whole fish. Whenever possible, buy the whole fish as this makes it more difficult to swap one species for another.

Are You a Seafood Lover? Use These Tips to Stay Healthy

Putting the fraud issue aside, though it is clearly widespread, most major watercourses in the world are polluted with heavy metals, mercury and chemicals like dioxins, PCBs, as well as other farming chemicals that end up in the environment. Therefore, it is no longer recommended to obtain your omega-3 requirements from fish, but rather from a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 supplement such as krill oil. There are however two exceptions.

One is authentic, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, whose nutritious benefits are still greater than any potential contamination. What’s more, the short lifespan of about three years reduces the risk of sockeye building up high amounts of mercury and other toxins. Bioaccumulation of toxins is additionally reduced by the fact that it doesn’t feed on other, already contaminated, fish.

Chlorella tablets are highly recommended whenever you eat fish. As the chlorella is a powerful mercury binder, when taken with fish it helps bind the mercury before you are able to absorb it, thus it can be safely defecated.

Smaller fish with short lifecycles are the second exception, as these also tend to be great alternatives in relation to fat content; thus you get a win-win situation – lower contamination risk and higher nutritional value. It’s a general guideline that less contamination is built up in fish that are closer to the bottom of the food chain. In case you really enjoy seafood, always opt for fish from this group:

  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Herring

In case you persist eating typical, store-bought fish and want to learn more about the degree of your mercury exposure, check out the online mercury calculator at GotMercury.org so as to get a hint of the risks involved. You can also consider combining your fish with a natural mercury chelator. Apart from chlorella, this also includes zeolite or green clay and fermented vegetables. Avoid entirely larger fish as these tend to live longer and have the highest contamination levels. The group consists of (Be aware that the list is not all-inclusive!):


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