For more information, see Seafood Species Substitution and Economic Fraud.
Seafood is required to be labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading. An important aspect of truthful labeling is identifying seafood species by their acceptable market names. The FDA developed The Seafood List - FDA’s Guide to Determine Acceptable Seafood Names to provide guidance to industry about what the agency considers to be acceptable market names for seafood sold in interstate commerce and to assist manufacturers in labeling seafood products.
Incorrect use of an established acceptable market name that results in the labeling being false and/or misleading can result in the product being misbranded under section 403(a)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act (21 U.S.C. 343(a)(1)).
In recent years there have been reports of seafood in the U.S. being labeled with an incorrect market name. In response to these reports, the FDA began conducting DNA testing on fish that have a history of being misidentified, in an effort to determine the accuracy of the market names on their labels.
The FDA’s testing to date has focused primarily on fish collected from the U.S. wholesale distribution chain, prior to the point of retail sale, and to a limited extent on seafood collected at the point of import. The FDA collected samples from 14 states (Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington).
These sampling efforts specifically targeted seafood reported to be at the highest risk for mislabeling and/or substitution. These included cod, haddock, catfish, basa, swai, snapper and grouper; sampling and testing conducted as part of this project found that the fish species was correctly labeled 85% of the time.
The FDA will use the results from this testing to help guide future sampling, enforcement, and education efforts designed to ensure that seafood offered for sale in the U.S. market is labeled with an acceptable market name for the species.
- Summary of FDA’s sampling efforts for seafood species labeling in FY12-13 (PDF: 141KB).
- Detailed reports for three individual sampling efforts for seafood species labeling performed in FY 12-13 (PDF: 409KB)
- Detailed data set from these sampling efforts for seafood species labeling (PDF: 252KB)
The FDA has developed an online learning module to help the seafood industry, retailers, and state regulators ensure the proper labeling of seafood products offered for sale in the U.S. marketplace. Proper identification of seafood is important throughout the seafood supply chain to ensure that appropriate food safety controls are implemented and that consumers are getting the type of seafood they expect and for which they are paying.
The module provides:
- an overview of the federal identity labeling requirements for seafood offered in interstate commerce;
- a list of the specific laws, regulations, guidance documents, and other materials pertinent to the proper labeling of seafood;
- a description of the FDA’s role in ensuring the proper labeling of seafood; and
- tips for identifying mislabeled seafood in the wholesale distribution chain or at the point of retail.
FDA and Seafood Labeling Part 1: This video describes the purpose of labeling; the role and authority of the FDA; and some possible reasons why seafood may be mislabeled.
FDA and Seafood Labeling Part 2: This video provides information on FDA’s specific laws, regulations, and guidance documents relevant to seafood labeling.
FDA and Seafood Labeling Part 3: This video illustrates FDA’s current work to discourage the mislabeling of seafood, and offers specific tips for regulators, retailers, and consumers in a combined effort to ensure proper seafood labeling.