This is fishy. Americans who buy shrimp in U.S. that are labeled "wild" or "Gulf" might not be eating what they think they are.
According to a new study published Thursday, researchers from the non-profit Oceana took samples from 11 restaurants and grocery stores across the U.S. to test the DNA of their shrimp. The researchers alarmingly found that 30 percent of shrimp were misrepresented.
While shrimp is the most consumed seafood in the U.S., the study proves that it's hard for Americans to know what exactly they are eating when it comes to the crustaceans. The researchers focused on two major shrimp areas in Portland, Oregon and the Gulf of Mexico and the cities with the highest shrimp consumption.
They found that some shrimp out of the 143 products tested that were labeled as coming from the Gulf of Mexico or "wild Pacific shrimp" were really farmed whiteleg shrimp. Gulf of Mexico shrimp are usually sold at a higher price because of its high quality. Other shrimp were misrepresented as other species, such as royal red shrimp and rock shrimp. These species of shrimp are popular because of their lobster-like flavor. The shrimp that were labeled as these two varieties were actually found to be a more common species of shrimp in 100 percent of its testing.
The most shocking case from the study was a bag of shrimp that contained coral shrimp, a banned species known as an aquarium pet and not food. In other cases, the DNA tests could not identify a species of shrimp at all.
One in three shrimp products tested in New York City were found to be misrepresented.
The Monterey Aquarian Seafood Watch recommended that seafood lovers consume only wild-caught shrimp, excluding options from Mexico and Louisiana.
More than 90 percent of shrimp in the U.S. is imported and is not strictly inspected, which led to the 2007 FDA ban of Chinese-farmed shrimp because of traces of unapproved drugs in the crustaceans. However, Chinese supplies were able to pass the red tape by shipping the shrimp to Malaysia where it was relabeled and sold in the U.S.
The shrimp is mislabeled as an attempt to charge more for cheaper, farmed seafood, and also because some species are misidentified by factories.
The study is alarming because misrepresented shrimp have sanitary, economic and environmental effects. Many people eat wild shrimp because they believe it is healthier and environmentally friendly. Imported shrimp also has ties to hazardous working conditions, slave labor in Thailand, damages to the ecosystem and the use of hormones and antibiotics.
"When somebody else slips something in and calls it a Gulf-branded seafood item, that really hurts the people down there that are trying to make a living and do it honestly," says lead study author Kimberly Warner.
Oceana previously discovered that seafood fraud is pretty widespread in the U.S., especially in California. Studies have found that red snapper and "wild caught" salmon are commonly mislabeled in the U.S. as well.
Photo credit: Phu Thinh Co