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Seafood Safe
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How meaningful is the label? Is the label verified? Is the meaning of the label consistent? Are the label standards publicly available? Is information about the organization publicly available? Is the organization free from conflict of interest? Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
Somewhat meaningful Yes Yes Yes Yes No1 Yes2
1. Currently, the program is a subsidiary of the company, EcoFish, a seafood distributor. EcoFish pays independent companies to do the sampling and testing, and the program is advised by an independent scientific advisory board.
2. To some extent. It was developed by EcoFish, a distributor of sustainable seafood, with participation from the environmental advocacy group, Environmental Defense, and guidance from a scientific advisory board.
Low Contaminant Levels

  • FISH
    The Seafood Safe program tests random samples of species of fish from specific locations and of a particular size for mercury and PCBs, and then informs consumers on the label of how many meals of that type of fish they can consume per month without exceeding EPA guidelines. (It doesn’t test the actual fish that is labeled.) The guidelines are intended to protect women of childbearing age, the adult population at highest risk. The Seafood Safe advice is stricter than the advice provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    Testing fish from a specific location and of a specific size is important since contaminant levels can vary by the size and age of the fish and where it was caught, and provides more specific information than relying on data that does not indicate the size or location.

    Currently, the Seafood Safe program is a subsidiary of the company EcoFish, a distributor of seafood from environmentally sustainable fisheries. There are plans for it to be used by other companies in the future. The environmental organization Environmental Defense performs the calculations of how many meals can be consumed each month, using EPA guidelines.

    Independent companies are hired to collect the samples, which are then shipped to independent laboratories for analysis. Seven random samples of seven ounces each are tested each year from the quantity it sells in one year.

    The number of meals recommended on the label is based on a 141-pound woman eating a 4-ounce serving containing the average concentration of mercury and PCBs found in the seven samples of fish tested. (This average concentration will be exceeded by some of the labeled fish, especially larger ones.) The recommended number of 8-ounce servings appears in smaller type on the label, and is half the number of recommended 4-ounce servings. The recommended number of servings on the label does not apply to children, who would need to consume a smaller number of servings. The website provides the number of recommended 4- or 8- ounce meals for younger children (0-6), older children (6-12), an “average adult”, and men, in addition to women of childbearing age.

    For PCBs, the number of meals is calculated using the EPA estimate of the concentration level associated with a 1 in 100,000 probability that cancer will result from a person of that weight eating that much seafood. For mercury, which does not cause cancer, the number of meals is calculated using the EPA estimate of the concentration level that is thought unlikely to pose any adverse health effect.

    Verification of fish species sold is not addressed through DNA testing. However, the Marine Stewardship Council chain of custody paper audit program is used.

    Understanding Mercury
    Mercury contamination is particularly of concern to children and pregnant or nursing women (since the fetus is especially vulnerable), but all people can be affected by mercury. Mercury is toxic to the nervous system, especially when the nervous system is still under development.

    The EPA and the FDA advise women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid fish with high levels of mercury (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tile fish) and to eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of fish lower in mercury (e.g., shrimp, canned salmon, pollock, catfish). Although light tuna is on FDA’s low-mercury list, the Chicago Tribune recently found that light tuna were not low in mercury, a result later confirmed by the FDA. We recommend that pregnant women avoid canned tuna entirely.

    The EPA and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommend that adults consume no more than 1 microgram of mercury for every 22 pounds of bodyweight per day—an amount easily exceeded. Not even 1 serving a week of fish containing the FDA limit on mercury would be safe, according to that advice. For Consumers Union’s advice on how much at-risk groups can safely eat, based on the EPA/NAS recommendations, see the July 2006 issue of Consumer Reports (
    The Seafood Safe claim is somewhat meaningful. The standards are defined, transparent, and are verified, but it is not free from conflict of interest (see below). The claim, “laboratory tested,” on the label may mislead consumers who might think it means that the fish they are buying has been laboratory tested when it actually means that seven samples of the same species of fish caught from a similar location were tested. The average contaminant level found in those seven samples (each sample is seven ounces) is used as a proxy for the contamination level in the labeled fish.

    Does an organization verify that the label standards are met?
    Yes, although not for that specific fish. Fish of the same species and of a similar size are tested to ensure that they do not exceed EPA’s guidance for concentration levels associated with a particular level of consumption.

    Is the meaning of the label consistent?
    Yes, although the labels may change from year to year, depending on the test results.

    Are the label standards publicly available?
    Yes, the standards are based on EPA recommendations, which are publicly available.

    Is information about the standard organization publicly available?

    Is the organization behind the label free from conflict of interest?
    No, not entirely. Currently the program is a subsidiary of EcoFish, a distributor of seafood from environmentally sustainable fisheries, which makes the final decisions about the label and the program. EcoFish pays for the sampling and testing, which are done by independent companies. The non-profit environmental advocacy organization Environmental Defense performs the calculations of the recommended number of servings. The program was developed under the guidance of an independent scientific advisory board.

    Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
    Yes, to some extent. The label was developed by the founder of a company specializing in sustainably-caught fish, with participation from a non-profit environmental advocacy organization (Environmental Defense) and an independent scientific advisory board.
    Seafood Safe
    Seafood Safe
    Seafood Safe was started in 2002 by Henry Lovejoy, the founder of EcoFish, a company that distributes seafood from environmentally sustainable fisheries. The program was officially launched in February 2005, with EcoFish as the first company to use the program. In the future other companies may use the program.

    Currently, the program is funded by and is a subsidiary of EcoFish.

    Seafood Safe has 2 lab partners, AXYS Analytical Services LTD in Sidney, British Columbia, and Brooks Rand LLC in Seattle Washington. AXYS tests for PCBs and Brooks Rand tests for mercury. The non-profit environmental organization Environmental Defense is also a partner and performs the calculations of the recommended number of servings using EPA’s methodology, and also helps with consumer education and advocacy. Independent quality assurance companies conduct random seafood sample procurement for the laboratory testing. An independent scientific advisory board advises the program’s design, policy, and methodology.

    Seafood Safe Standards
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