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Half the Sushi You’re Eating in Los Angeles Is Probably Mislabeled

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A new study out of UCLA paints a pretty bleak picture

Uni sushi
Wonho Frank Lee

Hold up: Are you sure that sushi you’re eating is really the right stuff? Maybe not, says a new UCLA report from this week. According to a paper put out by the university, something like 50% of all seafood in Los Angeles is mislabeled — and often intentionally.

The joint research project between UCLA and Loyola Marymount covered more than two dozen local sushi restaurants over a period of a few years, taking DNA samples of the seafood along the way. What they found was that a staggering 47% of the listed sushi was incorrectly labeled, both at those restaurants and at higher-end grocery stores in the area. In all, the data “[suggests] the bait-and-switch may occur earlier in the supply chain than the point of sale to consumers,” says the report.

The study, which made it into the Conservation Biology journal, comes from author and UCLA ecology professor Paul Barber. He says that he believes much of the mislabeling to be an intentional act at some level, that “the fraud undermines environmental regulations limiting overfishing,” and that it could ultimately pose a health risk.

For example, Barber points to oft-mislabeled samples of tuna that may have avoided the bluefin label on the menu — since it’s well-known to be overfished to nearly the point of extinction — by posing as different types of the fish, but were in reality Atlantic and Southern bluefin. Similarly, nearly 40% of the time dishes served as halibut were in fact near-threatened flounder.

As Eater points out, enforcement of these issues ultimately falls onto the plate of the Department of Health, but they are already overworked just in dealing with sanitation issues and new restaurant openings. Other means of avoiding mislabeled and sometimes endangered seafood have proven equally hard to enforce, though occasionally the city does crack down when it discovers a restaurant serving off-menu threatened whale.

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