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Mikulski, Va. lawmakers call for scrutiny of crab meat labeling

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski joined with Virginia lawmakers on Friday in requesting the Obama administration step up enforcement of seafood processors that are fraudulently labeling imported crab meat as a product of the Chesapeake Bay.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Mikulski asked that deceptive labeling be included as a focus of a task force created by the White House in June to address illegal fishing. The Maryland Democrat also requested a briefing on the issue from federal agencies.

"It has come to our attention that some processors are importing foreign crab meat, repackaging it at a domestic processing facility, and then labeling it as a product of the United States," Mikulski wrote. "Deceptive labeling misleads consumers and threatens the livelihood of the watermen in our states."

The letter was also signed by Democratic Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine as well as Republican Rep. Rob Wittman, all of whom represent Virginia.

It's not clear how frequently the mislabeling takes place. Jack Brooks, co-owner of J.M. Clayton Seafood Co. in Cambridge, said the local industry has performed DNA testing on crab meat labeled as a Maryland product only to discover that the species is actually native to Asia or South America.

The imported crab is usually cheaper, which already puts a squeeze on the region's seafood industry. If it's also mislabeled, it becomes unfair competition, said Brooks, who also leads a seafood trade group focused on the Chesapeake Bay region.

The Federal Trade Commission, charged with preventing anti-competitive business practices, did not respond to a request for comment about the letter.

Obama signed a memorandum June 17 creating a multi-agency “framework” to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The administration estimates that global losses due to black market fishing run as high as $23 billion annually.

The effort appears to have bipartisan support.

"The administration should use all the existing tools in the toolbox to ensure a level playing field for the Chesapeake Bay's seafood industry," Wittman, a Republican, said in a statement.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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