One fish, two fish . way too many fake fish

Your dinner has arrived, a nice piece of fish, delicately cooked, served perhaps over a bed of rice or, wow, maybe quinoa.

Was it wild salmon you ordered? Would you be surprised and disappointed to learn that you got coho instead?

As the nonprofit organization Oceana has put it: "Recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 percent 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."

Seafood fraud has been documented in recent years by newspapers, Consumer Reports and others.

And now two senators want the Obama administration to do something about it.

Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, wrote last week to President Barack Obama urging action on seafood fraud.

"This fraud is ripping off consumers," they wrote, "posing health risks by disguising species that may be harmful for sensitive groups, and harming our oceans by making it easier for illegally caught product to make its way into the U.S. market."

A big part of the problem, according to a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office, involves a lack of coordination and communication by three agencies most responsible for seafood inspections: the Food and Drug Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Customs and Border Protection. (It may only add to the confusion and inefficiencies to note that the Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over catfish.)

Upward of 90 percent of all seafood consumed domestically is imported, the senators noted, but the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of those products.

In 2011 Oceana conducted a study of seafood in the Los Angeles market - fish sold at grocery stores and restaurants, including sushi purveyors - and reported that 55 of all samples it collected were mislabeled, and every fish sold with the word "snapper" in the label, 34 out of 34, was misidentified and out of whack with FDA guidelines.

Markey and Wicker say they will work toward solutions in Congress, but expressed hope that Obama's agencies would do a better job of working together on the fraud. They should get on it.

Fish consumers deserve accurate descriptions of what's on their plates.

—The Kansas City Star, Jan. 27

 

Pete Seeger, the quintessential folkie

Word of Pete Seeger's death arrived in Chicago in the middle of the night on one of the coldest days in modern history. That seemed appropriate given the gift of warmth the man had bequeathed in his music.

By some viewed as the most dangerous man in America, he was an early Communist and determined and passionate critic of everything he believed was wrong. He created a warm, expansive genre of folk music that invited young people in, immersed them in the culture of conflict and sent them out the other end full of argument, passion and song.

This was troubling for America in the 1950s, a nation fresh from the big war, longing for calm and looking ahead to soul-searing conflicts over race, assassinations and Vietnam.

A lifelong pacifist, Seeger was at the center of the peace and rights movements, helping make "We Shall Overcome" and "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," anthems for a generation that was struggling against the currents. He paid a price. He was cited for contempt of Congress, blacklisted and basically forced off most stages at the height of his career.

Seeger never actually mellowed, but had his regrets.

He rejected Soviet Communism in the early 1980s (long after his career was crippled by blacklisting) and acknowledged he was "probably" not an atheist because he could see God in the people of the world and in every living thing.

He became sweet as he aged, his old bitterness locked away in dozens of songs over time that offered no quarter to hatred, racism, brutality, warfare and pollution of his beloved Hudson River.

Most of all, he gave everyone permission to sing whenever the urge entered their head. If they asked "Sing what?" he had thousands of great answers.

—The Chicago Tribune, Jan. 29