Are you eating endangerd tuna?

Sushi 1Seafood tracability is becoming an important factor for consumers, particularly with the steady rise in mercury and other harmful pollutants in our oceans.

Knowing where you fish came from – and how much mercury it contains – has just gotten a little easier.

DNA barcoding research conducted by the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History has shown that sushi purchased in supermarkets might actually be healthier than that from restaurants, where it’s likely you’ll end up eating endangered species of tuna.

The new research revealed that one-fourth of the tuna served on sushi menus is bluefin, while some was escolar, a waxy, buttery fish often labeled “white tuna” that’s banned for sale in Japan and Italy because it can cause gastrointestinal distress. 

Bluefin tunaNew DNA barcoading allows consumers to know what kind of tuna they’re really getting.

Jacob Lowenstein – a graduate student affiliated with the Museum and Columbia University – and colleagues used DNA barcoding to identify the kind of fishes labeled “tuna” in one Denver and 30 New York City restaurants. Almost half the restaurants did not accurately label the kind of tuna sold, and only 14 of the samples used for this study were listed on the menu by a specific name like bigeye tuna, albacore, or bluefin.

The results of the investigation showed how misled consumers have been when ordering their favorite sushi.

  • The most prevalent tuna found in sushi is bigeye (30, or almost half, of the 68 samples collected for this study). 
  • Nearly a third of the tuna was bluefin.
  • Only eight of the 22 bluefin samples were labeled “bluefin” on menus, and nine restaurants that sold the bluefin didn’t label it as such on the menu, although restaurants that did, did so accurately and charged more for the sushi.
  • Five of the nine samples labeled in restaurants as “white tuna” were not albacore but escola.

“It is very difficult to get reliable information about the species you are eating, especially since the FDA’s approved market name for all eight species of Thunnusis simply ‘tuna’,” says Lowenstein. New requirements that would market each species under its own name would help to clarify cases of economic fraud and allow conservation-minded consumers to avoid bluefin.

Like anychange, it has to start with consumer demand. Speaking up and asking questions are the first steps to really knowing what you eat and how safe it is for you and the environment.

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