It is believed that the seafood fraud bill reintroduced to the House of Representatives by Representative Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) earlier this month with new traceability and labelling requirements could have an effect on retailers.
The Safety and Fraud Enforcement (SAFE) for Seafood Act would now require that the data gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), such as species and where they were caught and how, follow the fish throughout the supply chain, from boat to plate, with similar documentation required for imported seafood products.
How this gets done is open to interpretation.
“We're not telling anyone in the supply chain how they have to do this [traceability requirement]. It’s just this information needs to go through the chain. You can do it with something like Gulf [Seafood] Trace. You can do it with your own system that logs information electronically. You can do it with a piece of paper, for all we care, whatever floats your boat,” said Matthew Strickler, one of the bill’s authors, Supermarket News reports.
The idea for the bill is that it would make sure that those involved in seafood mislabelling be punished while honest retailers would receive help, said Strickler.
Retailers that unknowingly sell mislabelled fish would also be protected thanks to a “whole harmless” provision of the bill.
“If you’re able to trace the documentation back through the supply chain and find out where that actual fraud occurred, so that that’s the person who is subject to penalties under the law,” said Strickler.
The SAFE Seafood Act is also meant to enhance coordination between NOAA and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including updating the FDA’s seafood list of acceptable market names, as currently many different species can legally be sold under the same name.
Further, the Act has the potential to buttress sustainability efforts, as if consumers can see where the fish comes from, they will have the power to choose to buy species that were sourced or farmed sustainably.
But not everyone buys that it will work.
Fraud protection laws are already in place, said Jonathan Tycko of Tycko and Zavareei LLP, a law firm specializing in fraud cases. The issue is enforcement, as there is a lack of funding going to the agencies in charge of enforcing the law.
“So even if this bill becomes law, there has to be some money put behind it and somebody on the ground who’s actually checking,” said Tycko.