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Seafood labels in Canada too vague: Environmental groups

Adequate labelling provides consumers with health and environmental information

Environmental groups are giving Canada's seafood labelling requirements an F grade due to their lack of details compared to American and European packaging standards.

The report card released Thursday said Canada has the vaguest labelling descriptions of fish products of the three jurisdictions. It said that is increasing the risk of misrepresentation of what's being sold.

Colleen Turlo, a spokeswoman from the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre and co-author of the study, said basics like the species' scientific name, along with how and where the fish was caught and processed should be on the labels.

"Inadequate seafood labelling means consumers don't have adequate health and environmental information about the product," said Turlo in a telephone interview.

The report, by a coalition of environmental groups called SeaChoice, said some seafood sellers and retailers voluntarily labelled seafood more comprehensively, but the lack of uniform regulatory requirements meant only some consumers had the information they needed.

Turlo argued that Canada should at least match American and European standards.

"It's that first step to ensuring that as a product travels through the supply chain ... information about that product isn't changed along the way," she said.

She said in Canada it's possible consumers wouldn't have any idea, based on the label, what country the fish came from and whether it was farmed or wild.

"Those are some pieces of information that can help narrow down whether something is overfished and whether the region has strong fisheries management," she says.

The report said European Union nation labels included the common name, the scientific name, the harvest method, the geographic origin of the fish and the country where the fish was last processed, while in the United States labels included the common name of the fish, the production method and the country where it was processed.

"It's shocking that our products from Canada are being sold with more detail in the United States and the European Union than they are in Canada," said Turlo.

The study said improvements in labelling requirements in other jurisdictions had been driven by the results of genetic testing of seafood that exposed extensive fraud, where seafood labelled as one species turned out to be an entirely different kind of fish.

While there are certification programs that collect information from participating Canadian companies and provide a label indicating the species is harvested sustainably, Turlo said national standards are needed.

"They're collecting information and data that we feel the Canadian government should be collecting anyway ... Consumers should be able to see this without having to rely on a third-party certification," said Turlo.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has authority over food labelling and said on its website that labels should provide a common name, the quantity, the best before date and the name and address of the manufacturer, dealer or importer "and in some cases, grade/quality and country of origin."

The agency did not immediately comment on the study's proposals.

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