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Rep. Markey Introduces SAFE Seafood Act to Combat Fish Fraud

U.S. Rep.  Ed Markey (D-MA.) on Wednesday re-introduced a new, bipartisan version of a previously-introduced bill to combat widespread seafood fraud “that cheats fishermen and consumers, while posing health risks to pregnant mothers and others,” according to Markey.

The bill comes on the heels of recent studies that found, on average, 33 percent of the time seafood is mislabeled in restaurants, supermarkets, and other retail locations across the United States. This second version of the legislation “reflects intensive discussions with fishermen, consumer and conservation groups, and federal agencies that improved the original legislation,” according to a statement put out by Markeys office.

“Fish fraud is a national problem that needs a national solution. This bill finally tells the seafood swindlers and fish fraudsters that we will protect America’s fishermen and consumers from Massachusetts to Alaska,” said Rep. Markey, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. “From tackle to table, this bill makes the entire seafood supply chain more transparent and trustworthy.”

A summary of the bill notes that the Government Accountability Office estimates that only 2 percent of seafood imported into the U.S. is inspected, and that only 0.001 percent is inspected for seafood fraud. “This puts U.S. consumers at risk of being swindled and sickened. It also puts U.S. fishermen at risk of having the prices they receive for their catch undercut by inferior and falsely labeled foreign product,” read the summary.

According to Markey’s office:

To prevent seafood fraud, Rep. Markey’s SAFE Seafood Act, formally the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act, requires information that is already collected by U.S. fishermen — such as species name, catch location, and harvest method — to ‘follow the fish,’ and be made available to consumers. It also requires foreign exporters of seafood to the United States to provide equivalent documentation.

The bill also expands the ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to refuse entry of unsafe or fraudulent seafood shipments, and allows NOAA to levy civil penalties against violators under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

In addition to the fraud prevention measures, the SAFE Seafood Act addresses concerns over seafood safety raised by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a 2011 report by requiring cooperation and progress reporting. The report found that a lack of coordination between FDA and NOAA is resulting in needless duplication of seafood safety inspections at a time when resources are only allowing for 2 percent of seafood imports to be examined for safety.

Rep. Markey was joined in the legislation by original co-sponsors Walter Jones (R-NC), John Tierney (D-MA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Lois Capps (D-CA) and Jo Bonner (R-AL.).

Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

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