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In the US many sushi places sell "white tuna" which actually isn't a Tuna at all but Escolar, a fish from a different family and genus. That seems to be primarily a popular marketing ploy: Tuna is substantially more expensive than Escolar. It also doesn't remotely taste like tuna either. The practice is akin to selling chicken as "white beef" at beef prices.

Is is not only is it grossly misleading, it is also potentially dangerous. Escolar is banned in (for example) Japan and Italy because they consider it toxic. Being banned in Japan is particularly ironic for a Sushi fish. Anyway: Tuna is much less of a health risk than Escolar.

  • Is this legal or what is the legal interpretation of this mislabeling?
  • What legal recourse does a customer have if they come across it?

If locality matters, let's start with US, Massachusetts.

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    – Dale M
    Mar 27, 2023 at 2:21

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Federal deceptive advertising regulations do not apply to restaurant menus, and sale of escolar is legal in the US. Legal recourse would have to be via state law. Such legal action is conceivable, for example it would be "menu fraud" to sell chuck steak as "Kobe beef", and the practice of selling shark meat disks as scallops is likewise illegal. Fish are problematic since multiple species can be commonly called by a single name (sole, halibut, cod, snapper, sardine, herring). It is possible that in a certain market, "white tuna" is standardly understood to be albacore tuna, therefore it would be fraudulent to sell escolar as "white tuna". That would be the point that has to be proven in a legal action, that the term has a specific interpretation. Analogously, there are a number of creamed vegetable products sold as "hummus" which contain no chickpeas (by original definition, hummus is chickpeas and not soybeans). By dint of such variant use over time, it is not deceptive to sell mashed soybeans as "hummus". The tuna industry may well hope to limit the use of the term "tuna", but there is no regulation defining "white tuna". It should be noted that there is a regulation, 21 CFR 161.190 for canned tuna, dictating that only albacore tuna may be called "white meat tuna".

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