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Friday, May 27, 2011

Kashrut Alert! Do You Know What Fish Your're Buying/Eating?

In the 1960's, just as I was becoming Torah Jewish observant, Rabbi Dr. Tendler revealed the shocking truth to the Jewish world that tuna wasn't always tuna.  Sometimes it wasn't/isn't even a fish.  I get a real kick out of the modern secular campaign that makes a scandal out of the very same fact.  For some reason they consider it shocking, immoral that they may be eating a fish-like mammal, such as a porpoise or dolphin, even though the same people have no problem eating other animals...

Well, now an organization called Oceana has revealed, in a whopper of a publicity campaign that many of the fish for sale isn't what the label says.  (hat tip: NY Times email digest; but since I no longer read their articles, since they want to restrict them to paying subscribers, I googled a phrase from the summary and found the same information on a different site)

According to Oceana’s new report, “Bait and Switch,” “[C]onsumers are frequently served the wrong fish — a completely different species than the one they paid for. Recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available (Miller and Mariani 2010, Buck 2007, Jacquet and Pauly 2008).”

“Estimates of red snapper fraud range as high as 77 percent (Marko et al. 2004),” the report adds, “or even 90 percent (Logan et al. 2008), as a proportion of DNA-tested fish.”

Jewish Laws of Kashrut require that we always know exactly what we're eating. The big question is:

At what stage of "production," the shipping, catching, skinning, fileting, packaging do the official kashrut observers enter the scene?


Shy Guy said...

To the best of my knowledge, the dolphin in a tuna can scare was a red herring. It never happened. All we kosher consumers panicked as if we were eating sheitels from India blessed by Hairy Krishna. :)

For a little more info, read here.

Batya said...

Years ago, there was a blanket acceptance that all canned tuna was kosher. This changed about 45 years ago. Are you saying that there's no problem?

Anonymous said...

Salmon is good, they cannot fool you with it.

Sabba Hillel said...

This is an interesting post. As you see, the kosher supervision can be started at any point before the fish has been skinned. Thus, the supervisor does not hav to be on the boat, but does have to supervise the processing in the plant from the time the fish is brought in. If a restaurant buys fish with skins on it, the suprvision has to start when it is brought into the restaurant.


Q: My local fish store does not have kosher supervision and sells mostly fish with the skin removed already. The names of the fish are kosher sounding. Is there any problem with me buying fish from this source?

A: It is forbidden to purchase fish without skin, unless the skin was removed under kosher supervision. The reason for this requirement is that when one removes the skin of a fish, it is impossible to know what species it is. The name on the label is meaningless, because of an issue known in industry as “species substitution”. This is when an unscrupulous seller (or importer, or distributor, etc.) mislabels a cheap product with the name of more expensive specie for financial benefit. Recent news stories have highlighted this practice with regards to a fish called basa or tra. In order to avoid import duties, many have taken to labeling and selling this non-kosher catfish as “grouper.” If someone purchased skinless “grouper”, for example, it is quite possible that what they really bought was a non-kosher fish. In fact, grouper and basa look nothing alike, and one would imagine that the purchasers of this falsely labeled product would immediately realize the folly being perpetrated on them.

One must check the fish he is buying for the presence of scales which can be removed from the fish without ripping the skin (all such fish have fins, so there is no need to check). If the fish has no scales, but one can recognize it by looking at the skin, this is permitted as a valid form of identification as well.

Sabba Hillel said...

The reason for salmon is that the red skin color is unique to that (kosher) fish and can be used as a siman. Salmon raised in artificial hatcheries are often without the distinctive red color and might be a problem. If the fish industry developed an artificial dye and was able to use it on other species, that would also be a problem. Hoewver, that is not a problem at present. I understand that any artificial coloring that they have currently only takes affect on salmon.

Q: What about salmon? Is it true that the OU endorses buying salmon without skin and without a hashgacha?

A: Yes, the OU has researched various questions which have been presented over the years about the kashrut of salmon, and we still endorse the idea of buying skinless salmon. So long as the consumer is familiar with what salmon is supposed to look like, we are not concerned that another fish will be substituted for salmon which is not kosher. There are other fish which look very similar to salmon (some types of trout, arctic charr, etc.), but they are all kosher. We are not aware of any non-kosher fish which looks like salmon, and OU policy assumes that the red color is considered an acceptable indentifying mark for kosher. As such, the OU allows for salmon to be purchased without skin.

Batya said...

thanks for the info
I'm going to try to stop buying all the various fish frozen except for salmon. I can't imagine that there are enough kashrut observers to give us 100% reliable fish.

rickismom said...

Any frozen fish with a reliable kashrus supervision should be no problem.....

Shy Guy said...

Batya, there's a difference between the old false assumption that canned tuna can't be problematic kashrut-wise verses the false assumption that the flesh in the can is from dolphins.

Canned tuna is processed and has always required a hechsher - but not because of the concern that it's dolphin meat.

BTW, this is true of any canned product, string beans included.

Also regarding fish you buy today, what Rikismom said.

Hadassa said...

The issue with porpoises and dolphins among the conservationists is that they are threatened/endangered species whereas the tuna isn't.
In a kashrut class Rav Katz of Kosharot mentioned that there are over 200 species of tuna and only about 20 of them are kosher.
How fish is transported after being caught is also a problem. Even when an entire school of one type of fish is caught up to 25% of the catch may be a different species of fish. If the fish is stored in a salt-water hold in the ship a kashrut problem can arise if a large enough percentage of non-kosher fish die in the hold. The salt water may create a preserving effect, which is likened to cooking for kashrut purposes.

Batya said...

My nature/gut tells me to go with Hadassa on this issue.

Shy Guy said...

Here's an article by OK labs on the canned tuna subject in general:

Fine-tuning tuna

I was not aware that any species of tuna is unkosher. Gotta link? Based on this page by the same author as the article above, all commercial varieties of tuna are kosher:

Kosher food production (page excerpt)

And here is the OU's article on canned tuna/salmon.

Shy Guy said...

Regarding the issue of storage in brine (assuming that's how they are stored), see this Jerusalem Kosher article and the comments therein.

Fish are sorted out either on the boat or at delivery on shore.

Even without kashrut considerations at all, the chances of another species getting canned with tuna in any civilized, regulated and competitive market is miniscule. The brand would be scandalized and lose a fortune.

Batya said...

So, again I ask if we really need to check for a hechsher on tuna or are there other facts in the canning etc that can make it traif?

Shy Guy said...

Batya, I stated way above, near the start of the comments that it is an "old false assumption that canned tuna can't be problematic kashrut-wise". I also later stated that the same holds true for even the simplest of canned products, as an example, string beans cooked in water.

Also the article on tuna I linked to say the same, for a variety of reasons.

Regarding fresh fish, like Rickismom said, either buy when seeing the skin or buy from a supervised company or store.

Hadassa said...

Shy Guy, "all commercial varieties of tuna" isn't the same as "all varieties of tuna". If a fish isn't farmed in a completely closed body of water other species mix with the main school. I haven't found a link yet, but the fact that the author specifically states "all commercial varieties" leads me to believe that there are other non-kosher, non-commercial varieties swimming among the others.

Shy Guy said...

Hadassa, I have no problem distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial tuna varieties.

I also know that when the fish are trawled, they catch numerous varieties of different fish from the same and different species.

Keli Ata said...

I had never heard about the whole tuna/dolphin situation until it was briefly mentioned in a Latma episode. Pathetic way to come across information I know.

I don't eat any kind of fish at all. I don't care for fish. But as some people commented, the problem can apply to just about all sorts of prepared food.