Entries in Fish (12)


Mislabeled Fish Raise Food Allergy Risk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Nearly 40 percent of seafood sold in New York City is mislabeled, according to a conservation group’s new report on a fishy practice that spells trouble for people with food allergies.

“Recent testing has revealed that dishonest labeling and fraudulent seafood substitution for certain species is rampant and widespread,” researchers from the ocean conservation group Oceana wrote in their report, which they said was based on DNA testing of 142 seafood samples collected from unidentified New York City grocery stores, restaurants and sushi bars.

Oceana previously reported fish mislabeling rates as high as 48 percent in Boston and 55 percent in Los Angeles.

Oceana said the findings are particularly troubling given that seafood ranks among the top eight food allergens. And since fish allergies are often species-specific, experts say the bait-and-switch opens the door to dangerous exposures.

“If [a person] is not allergic to the fish they think they are getting, and that fish is substituted with one to which they are allergic, they obviously could have a serious allergic reaction,” said Dr. David Fleischer, an associate professor of pediatric allergy and immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colo. “Patients need to be able to trust the people they purchase fish from.”

Among the “most troubling substitutions,” according to the report, was fish labeled as white tuna that turned out to be escolar, a type of snake mackerel linked to gastrointestinal problems. Also, fish sold as red snapper and halibut turned out to be tilefish, which has mercury levels that land it on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “do-not-eat” list for pregnant or nursing women and young children.

“Without accurate, honest labels that show exactly what fish you are eating and where it was harvested, those who need this critical advice about specific fish will be left unprotected,” the report authors wrote.

Previous reports on fish fraud have sparked outrage from politicians, who argue the FDA should do more to curb seafood mislabeling.

“Seafood fraud is not only deceptive marketing, but it can also pose serious health concerns, particularly for pregnant women seeking to limit exposure to heavy metals or individuals with serious allergies to certain types of fish,” Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. wrote in an October 2012 letter to the FDA. “Consumers should not have to question the safety of their seafood.”

But it’s unclear where along the chain “from bait to plate” the mislabeling is taking place. Citing a 2009 Government Accountability Office report, Boxer said 86 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. originates overseas but only 2 percent of it is inspected by the FDA and only 0.01 percent is “explicitly inspected for fraud or mislabeling.”

“Seafood can follow a complex path from the point when it is caught to the point when it is sold to a consumer, making it difficult to isolate the point where fraud occurs,” she wrote. “To effectively address this problem, we need better traceability and enforcement throughout the entire chain of sale, from bait to plate.”

A spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency had not yet reviewed the Oceana report and “therefore cannot comment on the report at this time.” But, she added, “All seafood is required to be labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and in accordance with federal regulations. It is not acceptable to misrepresent the identity of a product, including at the final point of sale to a consumer.”

Buying fish from reputable dealers and being wary about unusually low prices can help protect consumers from fish fraud, according to the FDA. The agency also has a list of commonly substituted seafood products and photos of whole fish and fillets.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


AquaBounty Hoping to Serve DNA-Altered Salmon on US Plates

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Deep in the rainforests of Panama, in a secret location behind padlocked gates, barbed-wire fences and over a rickety wooden bridge, grows what could be the most debated food product of our time.

It may look like the 1993 hit movie Jurassic Park, but at this real-life freshwater farm scientists are altering the genes not of dinosaurs, but of fish.

They are growing a new DNA-altered saltwater fish in the mountains, far from the sea -- a salmon that could be the first genetically altered animal protein approved for the world to eat. If it is approved, this would be a landmark change for human food.

But it is one critics call "Frankenfish."

"The idea of changing an animal form, I think, is really creepy," said Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, an organic dairy farm. "When you move the DNA from a species into another species ... you create a new lifeform that's so new and so unique that you can get a patent for it."


And until now, AquaBounty, the multinational biotech company that for 20 years has been developing this giant fish, has kept it under close wraps.

The press has never been invited to its Prince Edward Island laboratory on the Canadian maritime coast, and its fish farm location in Panama has been kept secret out of fear of sabotage.

The Food and Drug Administration has seen it, but few from the outside. In fact, the last public tour of any kind was four years ago.

ABC News was given exclusive access to see the facilities up close and an opportunity to taste this mysterious fish that FDA scientists say "is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon," although have yet to officially approve it for public sale.

Ron Stotish, the president and CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, the company that created and hopes to market the eggs of this salmon to independent fish farms around the world, told ABC News it has employed bio-security measures, creating a "Fort Knox for fish," to ensure safety for the fish and prevent cross-contamination with the wild.

Entry to both facilities begins with body suits and iodine baths for shoes, which serves to keep the fish safe from germs.

Inside these protected tanks, America gets the first up-close look at the final product, the fish that has the food police up in arms.

"These are very healthy, beautiful Atlantic salmon," Stotish said.

With one big difference -- the growth rate of a regular salmon compared to that of an AquaBounty genetically modified fish.

While the AquaBounty fish do not grow to a size larger than normal salmon, they get to full size much faster, cutting costs for producers.

A normal-size 1-year-old Atlantic salmon averages 10 inches long, while the genetically modified fish at the same age is more than two times larger, coming in at 24 inches.

Salmon is the second-most popular seafood in America. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average size of an Atlantic salmon is 28 inches to 30 inches and 8 pounds to 12 pounds after two years at sea.

How do they accomplish the accelerated growth?

"They differ by a single gene," Stotish said.

But, it's that single gene change that makes the DNA-altered salmon grow much faster than a normal Atlantic salmon, because it's really three fish in one.

AquaBounty scientists have taken a growth gene from the Chinook salmon and inserted it into the DNA of the Atlantic salmon because Chinooks grow fast from birth, while Atlantics do not.

"Salmon in their first two years of life grow very slowly," Stotish said.

Then there is one more genetic alteration -- a growth switch from a sea eel also is inserted in the Atlantic salmon DNA because natural salmon normally only grow in summer. The eel grows all year round.

John Buchanan, the director of research and development for AquaBounty, has been working on the salmon for two decades and explained that the change allows the fish to start growing from birth.

"You get to market size at least 12 months before any other type of salmon out there," Buchanan said.

AquaBounty says the fish are ready for market and it now wants the FDA to give final approval of what it calls the AquaAdvantage salmon for American dinner plates.

Already 80 percent of U.S. corn, soybeans and sugar beets are genetically altered, but until now ... never meat.

"It opens up a whole other section of the grocery store, to a technology which we think is still not fully understood," said Patty Lovera, the assistant director of consumer rights group Food & Water Watch.

Sensitive to criticism that these fish could escape into the wild and wipe out natural salmon, AquaBounty is anxious to show what it says are 16 redundant safety nets to keep their fish inside.

"We've been operating this facility for more than 20 years and we've never lost a single fish," Stotish said.

Another safeguard, Stotish explains, is that these super-fish are sterile.

"These animals can't transmit their genetic information to generations. They're incapable of breeding and that's perhaps the most important part," he said.

That assures nothing can go wrong with this fish altered by science to grow and get to market faster, he said.

"This fish is identical to traditional salmon in every measurable way," Stotish said.

Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union, said he thinks science has gone too far though.

"I wouldn't want to eat this fish, unless it's gone through a proper approval process," he said.

There is no proven link between genetically altered food and health problems, but critics are skeptical about AquaBounty studies and complain government scientists have not done enough independent work, and ignore the unknown.

They worry, but have no proof that this new fish will increase allergies, and they theorize its altered hormone system could somehow cause cancer. The FDA's review of company data found those concerns unfounded.

But Hansen remained skeptical.

"That kind of science wouldn't make it past a high school science fair," he said.

When ABC News asked AquaBounty whether eating its fish should be cause for concern or fear, the company argued that DNA is in everything a person eats.

"You eat DNA every time you swallow," Stotish said. "You consume DNA with every food that you eat."

But when pressed by ABC News about the difference in the fish's altered DNA, Stotish responded that the alteration comes from a nearly identical fish and if eaten will make consumers healthier.

"The gene that's responsible for the rapid growth comes from the Chinook salmon, a Pacific salmon, that protein is essentially identical to the same protein that's produced by Atlantic salmon," Stotish said. "You have healthier levels of Omega 3-fatty acids, you will be consuming a very lean source of protein."

ABC News was offered an opportunity to taste the DNA-altered salmon to see whether there is a difference in flavor or texture. None was noticed.

Currently, there are almost no commercial wild Atlantic salmon left in the world and virtually everything consumers purchase at the store is raised in ocean pens at salmon farms as far away as Chile or Norway.

AquaBounty argues its freshwater fish will be raised closer to big cities and be fresher and environmentally friendlier because there will be no need to ship them from overseas.

"Man has been altering the nature of animals since man walked upright and began domesticating animals," Stotish said. "The beef that we consume, the pork we consume today don't resemble their early ancestors at all."

If FDA approval doesn't come soon, AquaBounty says its 20-year investment will go belly-up -- which the company says will be a setback for its investors and for science.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Seafood from Asia Raised on Pig Waste, Says News Report

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Seafood raised on pig feces and crawling with flies is being sold to U.S. consumers, according to a new report.

The November issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, in a piece on food poisoning and safety, says that it is common practice in some parts of Asia to feed fish pig waste.  It describes, for example, the sanitary conditions at a fish factory on the southern coast of Vietnam.

"Flies," it says, "crawl over baskets of processed shrimp."

The shrimp at some plants are packed in ice, which is good.  What's bad is that it's ice made from water often found to be contaminated with bacteria and unfit for human consumption, say Bloomberg's reporters in Hanoi.

Vietnam ships 100 million pounds of shrimp a year to the U.S., about 8 percent of the shrimp sold in America.

Outside Hong Kong, at a tilapia farm, fish are fed a diet that includes pig and geese feces.  That practice, Michael Doyle tells Bloomberg Markets, is unsafe for U.S. consumers, because the manure may be contaminated with salmonella. 

Doyle is director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.  Fish farmers, he says, use fecal matter as a cheaper alternative to commercial fish food.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects food shipments to the United States, including seafood shipments, but the agency's resources are limited, says Bloomberg's report.  It is able to inspect fewer than 3 percent of shipments.  Of that, reports Bloomberg, much is sent back.  The FDA has rejected 1,380 shipments of Vietnamese seafood since 2007, finding filth and salmonella.

Kevin Fitzsimmons, a professor and research scientist at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, tells ABC News he has read the Bloomberg article and finds it "a little misleading.  I do a lot of work in Asia and am headed there now for a conference on tilapia.  They [Bloomberg] are cherry-picking a few items to make things sound as bad as possible."  Fitzsimmons is an officer of the American Tilapia Association and an expert on seafood production in Asia.

For starters, he says, seafood shipments from Asia to the U.S. number in the "hundreds of thousands, if not millions," so the fact that 1,380 from Vietnam have been returned since 2007 is relatively insignificant.

Second, he says, the practice in Asia of putting hog feces into fish ponds dates back "thousands of years," and is not as repellent as it at first might sound.  Why?  "Because the fish are not eating the feces.  The feces are added to the water to produce an algae bloom," he says, which in turn produces a form of plankton that the fish then eat.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study Links Prenatal Mercury Exposure to ADHD Symptoms

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- A new study highlights the difficulty pregnant women face while eating for two, finding that more mercury exposure leads to a higher incidence of ADHD symptoms, while more fish consumption -- the main source of mercury exposure -- leads to a decreased risk.

"How much fish you eat is not equivalent to how much mercury you are exposed to," said study author Dr. Susan Korrick of Brigham and Women's Hospital.  "I think the public health conclusion that I would come to is that one can benefit from fish consumption, but it's important to try to consume fish that are low in mercury."

Researchers at Brigham and Women's tested more than 400 women for mercury about 10 days after they gave birth between 1993 and 1998, and asked them to fill out a survey about their fish consumption.  They measured the mercury in samples of the mothers' hair.  When the children were eight, researchers tested their cognitive abilities with a parent questionnaire and other tests, searching for symptoms of ADHD.  (It is important to note that these children were not diagnosed with clinical ADHD, but only exhibited some of the symptoms.)

Symptoms of ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers say cutting fish out of the prenatal diet to avoid mercury exposure entirely is a bad idea, and pregnant women should look for fish that are low in mercury, such as salmon.

"It's elegantly showing the paradoxical paradigm that it's both good for you and bad for you," said Christina Chambers of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists' Collaborative Research Center in San Diego, who read the study but was not involved in it.  Teratology is the study of abnormalities in physical development.

"They're finding the kids are slightly above average in the number of symptoms," Richard Gallegher, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone, said of the children born to mothers with higher mercury levels in their hair samples.  "They [the ADHD symptoms] can certainly impact how well kids are tending to things in school."

Researchers at Brigham and Women's also learned that pregnant women who ate more than two 6-ounce servings of fish a week were less likely to have children with these symptoms.  This is actually more than the Federal Food and Drug Administration recommends, which is only 12 ounces of fish a week.

Because the fish consumption survey was originally designed to look at organic chlorine contaminants, the fish were grouped by how much chlorine they were likely to contain -- not how much mercury they had, Korrick said.  As a result, the study could not name which fish increased ADHD symptoms and which did not.

Fish high in mercury include shark, swordfish and fresh tuna, Korrick said.  Fish with lower mercury levels -- which are also rich in healthy fats -- include salmon, rainbow trout and herring.  A third group, which has different health benefits but still is low in mercury, includes cod, shrimp and haddock.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Genetically Modified Fish a Threat to Natural Species?

Artist's Rendering. iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A species of bright neon green pet fish that were created by scientists could threaten native fish species off of Florida’s coasts, according to scientists.

The Electric Green Tetra, part of a line of GloFish created by scientists at Yorktown Technologies, was created when black tetra fish were combined with genetic material from coral, according to a report in today’s Washington Post. The report raises the possibility that the fish could be damaging to other species if let loose in American waters.

The fish, which becomes fluorescent when placed under a black light, was developed for use in home aquariums, according to the GloFish website.

But some biologists and food scientists, like those at the Center for Food Safety, are worried the fish will make it into the wild and disrupt natural biodiversity.

“We feel that the use of GE [genetic engineering] for wild animals — and these are essentially wild animals, they are not domesticated, they’re wild, they can escape, people throw them back into the wild — can have long-running impacts that can be pretty scary. GE invasive species have caused a lot of problems in this country. We want to be careful about contributing to those issues,” CFS attorney Peter Jenkins told ABC News today.

GloFish were the subject of a lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004. The CFS argued that the genetically-modified fish should be regulated by the government, Jenkins said.

Yorktown Technologies, maker of the fish, argues that the green fish would not become an invasive species if released into the wild.

“We have submitted detailed information regarding our fish to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration… (The FDA) found no evidence that our fluorescent fish pose any more threat to the environment than their non-fluorescent counterparts,” Yorktown’s website for GloFish reads.

Jenkins said that he hopes the FDA will take note of the Washington Post report on GloFish, in addition to websites like, which promotes the consumption of GloFish in order to raise awareness that they are dangerous.

“We think regulatory agencies aren’t doing their job,” Jenkins said today. “GE fish are generally banned entirely for pet use in Canada, California, and Europe, so the FDA seems to be taking a very hands-off approach.”

The FDA said in an email that GloFish are the only genetically engineered product sold commercially in the United States, and that they are not intended as a food product.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Support for Fish in the Fight Against Alzheimer's

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- Eating baked or broiled fish may help fight the brain shrinkage and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tracked fish consumption and measured brain volume and memory function in 260 cognitively normal adults over 10 years.  In the end, study participants who ate more fish had bigger brain areas -- particularly the hippocampus, which is known to shrink in Alzheimer's -- and better memory than their fish-declining counterparts.

"We found higher levels of working memory in people who ate baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis, even when accounting for other factors, such as education, age, gender and physical activity," Dr. Cyrus Raji, lead author of the study, said in a statement.  Raji presented his findings Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Other research has hinted at fish's brain-boosting effects.  A 2010 study published in Archives of Neurology found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet high in fish, fruits and veggies were 38 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over the next four years.

"Certainly this is not the first article to show a beneficial connection between fish consumption and Alzheimer's disease risk," said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association.  "It seems to fit with what we know about eating fish."

This is the first time, however, that brain imaging has been used to support the findings.

Raji and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging to capture 3-D images of subjects' brains at the beginning and end of the 10-year study.  Those who ate more fish tended to have bigger brain areas implicated in Alzheimer's, including the hippocampus, the posterior cingulate and the orbital frontal cortex.

While the results are encouraging, they do not necessarily mean eating fish protects against Alzheimer's -- an incurable disease that affects as many as 5.1 million Americans.  Rather, they provide support for a "possible beneficial effect of a diet rich in fish ingredients," according to Zaven S. Khachaturian, president of the Campaign to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease by 2020.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Investigation Uncovers Rampant Fish Fraud

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- A new investigation provides fresh evidence that restaurants and markets continue to dupe seafood lovers into paying top dollar for low-grade fish.

As part of a special “Fishy Business” series, the Boston Globe spent five months buying fish from dozens of establishments throughout Massachusetts and sending the samples off to a lab in Canada. DNA tests found 48 percent of the fish had been mislabeled as a more expensive type of fish.

Fish samples were gathered from 134 restaurants, grocery stores and seafood markets, and the results were staggering.  Every one of 23 white tuna samples tested turned out to be something other than tuna. In most cases the fish labeled tuna was escolar, which the Globe said was “nicknamed 'the Ex-Lax of fish' by some in the industry for the digestion problems it can cause.”

All but two of the 26 red snapper samples were another kind of fish, the Globe reported. That came as no surprise to Cape Cod fisherman Eric Hesse, who was quoted in the report.

“Mislabeling fish is at a ridiculous level,” said Hesse. “The dealers and restaurants have a vested interest in keeping the illusion going. Every time they can say they are selling fresh, local fish and get away with selling [Pacific] frozen, they don’t have to buy it from us. It kills us.”

The problem extends far beyond Boston and affects consumers nationwide. Earlier this year, ABC News correspondent Elisabeth Leamy reported that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 70 percent of the time.

“According to Food and Drug Administration port inspections,” Leamy said. “A third of seafood sold in the U.S. is mislabeled as one type when it’s actually something else, even something cheaper.”

The environmental group Oceana said part of the problem is the FDA’s lax enforcement of laws that make it a crime to mislabel seafood.

FDA officials acknowledged they could do more to police against fish fraud. The agency has nine new seafood testing machines and is training inspectors in how to use them. Field testing is expected to begin early next year.

For now, not all the Globe’s results were so disheartening: some of this country's largest retailers were selling the real McCoy -- or mackerel: every sample tested from Walmart, Trader Joes, and BJ’s Wholesale was correctly labeled, as was every sample of mahi mahi and swordfish.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Health Benefits of Fish Vary by Way It's Prepared

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Eating fish has been known to be beneficial to one's health because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  But a new study released Tuesday shows that those benefits depend greatly on how people, particularly women, prepare fish.

After reviewing data from over 90,000 women, aged 50 to 79, who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, researchers at George Washington University found that women who consumed at least five servings of baked or broiled fish per week had a 30-percent lower risk of heart failure compared to women who didn’t eat fish.

However, the researchers found that eating at least one serving of fried fish per week did the opposite -- it increased the risk of heart failure by 48 percent compared to women who did not eat fish.

The authors of the study, published in Circulation: Heart Failure, also found that dark fish such as salmon, which has high levels of omega-3, was healthier for the heart than tuna or white fish such as sole.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Seven Easy Sources of Vitamin D

Paul Tearle/Thinkstock(ALBANY, N.Y.) -- For women under 75, extra vitamin D could ward off macular degeneration. Few foods in nature contain vitamin D. The best sources of the vitamin are fatty fish and fish liver oils.

Here are seven easy ways to get your vitamin D:

1. Herring (1383 per 3 ounces)

2. Salmon, pink, canned (530 per 3 ounces)

3. Halibut (510 per 3 ounces)

4. Oyster (272 per 3 ounces)

5. Shitake mushrooms, dried (249 per 4)

6. Tuna, light meat, canned in oil (200 per 3 ounces)

7. Egg, cooked (26 per whole egg 25 per yolk)

Vitamin D is stated in international units.

Information provided by the New York State Department of Health and the Office of Dietary Supplements

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


High Radiation in Japanese Fish Raises Concerns

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are you green around the gills with Monday's news that Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co. is dumping tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean? Experts say there's no need for worry -- at least for now.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will require seafood imported from Japan to be checked for radiation before it enters the food supply. But even with the new screenings, no one in the U.S. government is saying "stop eating tuna."

"Other food products from this area, including seafood, although not subject to the Import Alert, will be diverted for testing by FDA before they can enter the food supply," the FDA said in a prepared statement. "FDA will also be monitoring and testing food products, including seafood, from other areas of Japan as appropriate."

More specifically, an FDA spokesperson told ABC News that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "is screening everything from Japan." However, screening does not entail testing all the seafood. In fact, the FDA inspects less than two percent of seafood, according to Winona Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

Since screening, the FDA confirmed finding three food products from Japan that contained radioactive isotopes, although they were "all too low to cause adverse events." So far, the FDA said that every piece of seafood that has been imported to the United States is safe.

Offshore from the Fukushima plant, the seawater is now testing at levels off the charts -- 7.5 million times more radioactive than the legal limit.

"I can't go out to fish because of the radiation," one Japanese fisherman told ABC News. "I cannot do anything."

But another fisherman said it was a "bad rumor" that the fish was unsafe to eat. "The fish are totally fine, I believe," he said.

Because of the elevated levels, the Japanese government also announced on Tuesday that it will, for the first time, enact radiation safety standards for fish.

"We're deeply sorry for discharging the radiated water," said Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano on Monday, "but it was necessary to prevent spreading higher radiated water into the ocean."

Even though radiation levels become diluted in large bodies of water, officials tested a sample of sand lance fish, often used for bait, and found that the species contained nearly double the levels of iodine 131 and cesium 137. The new regulation caps fish radiation levels at the same amount as vegetables -- up to 2,000 bequerels of iodine 131 per kilogram.

Edano said that government will strictly monitor the seafood and move forward after officials understand the full impact of the dumping.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio