Monday, January 16, 2017

Fishy, Fishy Sushi

Something fishy going on at LA’s sushi restaurants

The Japan Times   AFP-JIJI  Jan 13, 2017

Safe bet: According to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and Loyola Marymount University, fish are sometimes mislabeled at sushi restaurants in the Los Angeles area. | ISTOCK 

LOS ANGELES – Next time you order halibut, red snapper or yellowfin tuna at a sushi restaurant in the Los Angeles area, you may want to ask for proof that you’re getting what you ordered.

According to a recent four-year study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Loyola Marymount University, nearly half of the fish served at more than two dozen highly rated sushi restaurants in the city is mislabeled.

“Half of what we’re buying isn’t what we think it is,” says Paul Barber, a UCLA professor who led the study published in the journal Conservation Biology.

“Fish fraud could be accidental, but I suspect that in some cases the mislabeling is very much intentional, though it’s hard to know where in the supply chain it begins.”

Demian Willette, a researcher and co-author of the study, says that while mislabeling of food is nothing new, what was surprising was that it would be so prevalent, especially in a food-conscious market like Los Angeles.

“We didn’t really expect that because Los Angeles is a very foodie culture and in general people are very conscious about what they eat,” he says.

The study, conducted between 2012 and 2015, looked at 26 sushi restaurants that were highly rated on the reviewing sites Yelp and Zagat.

Biology students at UCLA were sent out to the restaurants over the four years to collect samples of 10 popular varieties of fish used for sushi. The samples were then tested for DNA.

Willette says of 364 samples tested, 47 percent showed that the sushi was mislabeled.

About the only sure bet was salmon, which was mislabeled roughly 1 in 10 times, and bluefin tuna, which was never swapped for a different kind of fish, according to the study.

“But out of 43 orders of halibut and 32 orders of red snapper, DNA tests showed the researchers were always served a different kind of fish,” the study says.

Yellowfin tuna was also mislabeled. On 7 out of 9 orders it was replaced, usually for bigeye tuna, which is vulnerable and overexploited.

“In some cases, the same restaurant was substituting multiple fish on menus,” Willette says. “So say they would propose three types of tuna when they actually served the same type.”

He says halibut was often swapped for cheaper species of flounder considered overfished or near threatened while red snapper was substituted for sea bream.

While price was a motivating factor in the apparent fraud, he adds that wholesalers were also likely to be involved and that attempts to skirt fishing policies also played a part.

“Some of it is price, and some of it is regulations,” he says.

The study warns that apart from duping consumers, the mislabeling poses a health risk for people with allergies to certain fish, and for pregnant women and children who should avoid high-mercury fish.

“A common parasite found in raw olive flounder … has caused ‘rampant’ food poisoning in Japan,” the study notes.

A spokeswoman at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which was made aware of the study, says her office had no immediate reaction.

As for Willette, he had one piece of advice: “I would say if you’re going to a sushi restaurant, probably avoid the halibut and red snapper. Eat salmon because salmon is almost always salmon.”

1 comment:

forsythia said...

Calls to mind an old song from the 1940's --"If you knew Sushi like I know Sushi ...."