Maine miffed over new surimi labeling rules

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2006

PORTLAND, Maine - Maine lobster promoters are protesting new labeling rules that allow producers of surimi, which is made from Alaska pollock or other whitefish, to drop the word "imitation" from their labels.

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The Maine Lobster Promotion Council said the decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will confuse consumers and hurt the Maine lobster industry. The National Fisheries Institute trade organization and the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers association worked for more than a decade to persuade the FDA that a labeling change was due.

Surimi is formed and flavored to imitate crab, lobster, scallops and other types of seafood. The FDA is now allowing the product to be labeled as "crab-flavored seafood" or whatever seafood it is made to resemble, rather than as "imitation."

Kristen Millar, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, said the rule change amounts to "misleading marketing" at a time when consumers are demanding more accurate labeling.

"We simply want what's ethical: Companies must be required to disclose true product composition," Millar said. "If it's Alaskan pollock, call it Alaskan pollock. If it's Maine lobster, call it Maine lobster."

Consumer surveys show that consumers are confused by the word "imitation," according to the fisheries institute. The surveys also show that people won't mistake surimi labeled as crab- or lobster-flavored for the real thing, said NFI spokeswoman Stacy Viera.

In addition to saying the surimi is "flavored," the new labels must also say the product is "made with surimi, a fully cooked fish protein," the fisheries institute said.

"Our research revealed that the use of the word 'imitation' on the product label negatively affects perceptions of the product, thereby reducing consumer purchasing," said Bob Collette, the institute's vice president for science and technology.



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