The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it is looking at ways to improve labelling for seafood after a report by environmentalists gave current rules a grade of F due to a lack of consumer information.
The report released Thursday by the Seachoice group, which includes the David Suzuki Foundation and the Ecology Action Centre, says that under existing rules Canadians often aren't receiving the same information as Europeans or Americans.
The coalition is advocating for Canada to begin including more details on labels, including where the fish was caught, how it was caught and, in addition to the common name, a scientific name that helps consumers identify more precisely just what they're about to eat.
The group said, without those changes, there's a risk of fraudulent misrepresentation about the fish on store shelves, along with associated health risks.
Country on label
The food inspection agency did not have an expert available for comment, but in a prepared statement said it is pursuing labelling changes.
The agency said it recently published proposals for labels to include the country of origin for imported whole fish and the fishes' common names, and also says it will "explore" ways the industry can ensure truthful claims are made on labels.
The agency's website says that currently the listing of country of origin of imported foods isn't universally required.
The agency's proposal for ensuring more truthful claims on labels says industry would be responsible for ensuring compliance with Canadian regulations "including ensuring that labels are not false or misleading to consumers."
Proposals fall short, study author says
In addition, it says companies should be able to substantiate claims on labels and be required to keep records of consumer complaints.
The proposals are part of a food labelling modernization program launched in 2013.
The current rules for seafood labels also require a list of ingredients, a nutrition facts table, the dealer name, the quantity, and the best before date.
Colleen Turlo, a co-author of the Seachoice study, said the federal proposals fall short of what the coalition was hoping for, as it leaves too much onus on consumers to report concerns.
She said requiring European-style details on seafood is needed to help buyers avoid health issues and choose products that were more sustainably harvested.
She also argued there's a need for scientific names on labels because the common names of fish — such as shrimp or rockfish — can include dozens of different kinds of fish.
"For example, in tuna, if you're eating a bluefin versus an albacore or a yellow fin or it's from a different ocean, then it means different things for potential mercury levels," she said.
A spokesperson for the food inspection agency said the report from Seachoice is being considered along with other submissions on seafood labelling.
She said a report will now be drafted later this year outlining the next steps.