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International News, April 2003

Fish make up a quarter of all EC ‘Food Alerts’

It’s official – fish is the riskiest of all food products. A report slipped out in early March by the European Commission’s DG SANCO (Health and Consumer Protection Directorate) shows all the ‘Food Alerts’ (“products which are on the market and which present a risk to the consumer”) for 2002. Fish is the product category with the most ‘Food Alerts’: over a quarter (26%) in 2002. ‘Food Alerts’ increased from 97 in 1999 to 434 in 2002 (it was only 10 in 1995 and 67 in 1997). Almost a third of the alerts which related to contamination were because of chemical contamination, a further third related to microbiological reasons. Of the microbiological reasons for alerts, 56% were because of salmonella, and 17% because of listeria. In terms of chemical triggers for food alerts, veterinary drug residues were responsible for 38%, pesticide residues for 20%, dioxins 8%, heavy metals 3%, and marine biotoxins 3%. But when asked for a list of each of the 112 fish ‘Food Alerts’ for 2002 the EC clammed up and refused to provide specific details. Clearly something fishy is going on as the web-site of the Irish Food Safety Authority already shows details of all ‘Food Alerts’ including chloramphenicol and nitrofuran in farmed prawns, fish oil capsules for dioxins/PCBs, swordfish for mercury, herring for PAHs and smoked salmon for listeria. Last year, the UK’s Pesticides Safety Directorate found DDT, chlordane and hexachlorobenzene in farmed salmon. And after the carcinogenic chemical Malachite green was found in Scottish salmon the EC threatened to ban UK imports of contaminated farmed salmon.

“I’d rather eat Spam than farmed salmon”

Can cheap and tasteless farmed salmon plummet any further down market? “It used to be a delicacy and the preserve of the top table, but now even greasy-spoon cafes are serving salmon” reported The Sunday Times (“Scottish salmon farmers sent reeling – overproduction has left fish prices at less than a quarter of the level in the 1980s”, 16th March). “And the pink flesh of the fish is appearing on more plates each year with cafes, works canteens and convenience-food makers being the latest to offer it”. But it seems some discerning palates would rather eat another fatty pink product, Spam, than farmed salmon. According to Andy Rooney of CBS television’s 60 Minutes: “Why on earth would anyone buy a fish grown on a farm? First of all, they taste like shit with little bones and look like watery pink lemonade. Give me a frozen sockeye over a fresh farm fish any day. These farm fish are also on drugs. Is your Vancouver mayor going to open safe injection sites for farm fish, where they can shoot up antibiotics without overdosing? And these fish have lice, just like on a dog-pound mutt, except it's in the sea. Eat farmed fish? I'd rather have Spam; at least it's safer”. Other classic quotes can be found be clicking onto the “They Said It” section on the Save The Swilly web-site.

Boston Seafood Show boycott of farmed salmon

Environmental groups staged a protest at the opening of the 2003 International Boston Seafood Show (11th March) to ‘blow the whistle’ on environmental problems created by the burgeoning salmon farming industry. The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), National Environmental Law Center and Massachusetts Sierra Club called on supermarkets and restaurants to disclose to consumers where their salmon comes from and what additives it may contain. “Although farmed salmon may be cheap to buy in the supermarket, it comes with a heavy but hidden environmental price tag,” warned Iris Vicencio-Garaygay, an environmental advocate with MASSPIRG. “Consumers should know the true price of salmon before throwing another salmon steak on the grill”. Most of the salmon found in supermarkets is farm-raised Atlantic salmon. Brand names of salmon farmed in Maine and sold in New England include "Majestic" (produced by Atlantic Salmon of Maine), "Sterling" (Stolt Sea Farm), and "Heritage" (Heritage Salmon). Wild Pacific salmon is also sold, much of it from Alaska (which has banned salmon farming), but is harder to find in supermarkets and restaurants. “This country is only now beginning to address the awful environmental legacy created by unregulated hog, cattle and chicken factory farms,” said Jay McCaffrey, Director of Massachusetts Sierra Club. “Government, consumers and seafood retailers have a responsibility to act now to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes with fish farming”. Protests over the environmental impacts of salmon farming have appeared with increasing frequency in Europe and on the West Coast. This is the first such protest in Boston.

Restaurants switch to wild salmon

According to The Vancouver Province (16th March) “B.C.'s embattled salmon-farming industry has been dealt a kick in the taste buds after several prominent restaurants announced they're switching to wild”. Representatives for the Milestones chain and Spectra group said the decision was customer-driven. “The decision was based on guests requesting the change,” said Cathy Tostenson of Milestone’s, who said her organization took no position on the fish-farming debate. Glen Zoteck, executive chef for Boathouse Restaurants, said Spectra’s change of heart came from a three-month experiment with customers being offered a choice of farmed or wild. “We slowly but surely saw the amount of people switching from farmed to wild salmon”, said Zoteck. “We did charge considerably more on the feature menu for the wild salmon…and we did not see any resistance. That's a clear message to us that people would rather have the wild and pay more for it”. More information on the Canadian campaign against farmed salmon ...

Burger King to sell farmed salmon

In March it was revealed that Burger King are intent on dragging down the image of the “King of Fish” even further by selling salmon burgers. The fast food giant may want to think twice, however, before launching contaminated farmed salmon upon an unsuspecting public. McDonald’s came unstuck in 1997 when two members of the public and two of its own staff were hospitalised after eating ‘McLaks’ farmed salmon burgers in Norway. According to Reuters, McDonald’s were forced to withdraw its McLaks salmon burgers from all 36 branches in Norway after customers complained of “paralysis in the mouth, burning sensations, trembling, itching and rashes”. It might be safer sticking to Spam fritters. For more information on “What lurks behind that farmed salmon steak?” see Ecotrust’s excellent new publication “The hidden costs of farmed salmon”.

“Frankenfish stand Darwin on his head”

Writing in The Washington Times, Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, argues that biotech engineers are playing ‘ecological roulette’ with wild fish. “Frankenfish stand Darwin on his head. The gene-altered fish have an advantage in mating, but their offspring are dying at a far greater rate than the non-engineered fish”. Scientists at Purdue University have worked out that the escape of only 60 engineered fish into a native population of 60,000 would lead to extinction in just 40 generations – a result which has seen Aqua Bounty’s GM salmon dubbed ‘Trojan Genes’. As he further explains: “Just as the faux horse of old led to the destruction of Troy, so these Trojan genes will lead inevitably to the extinction of salmon and other fish species”. Further information on the Centre for Food Safety’s campaign against GM fish can be found at their web-site.

“Frightening” number of escapes

Advocates for the safety of GM salmon must be looking at increasing horror at the “frightening” number of escapes. In February it was revealed that over 2 million farmed salmon had escaped in 2002 alone. But 2003 looks set to be the worst ever, especially for Norway’s wild salmon. Asle Guneriussen, a senior adviser in aquaculture for Akvaplan Niva, admitted in February that: “210,000 salmon have escaped from Norwegian salmon farming facilities in one and a half months. Let’s hope the figures don’t continue to climb. However, such high figures are frightening”. But in March it was revealed that another 80,000 farmed salmon had escaped in the Norwegian region of Finnmark. Official figures from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries reveal that since 1997 over 3 million salmon and trout have escaped from Norwegian fish farms (the corresponding Scottish figure is just over 1 million). If it takes just 60 GM salmon to wipe out a native population of 60,000 wild salmon it beggars belief what would happen if millions of Frankenfish went on the rampage – now that is frightening.

Escapes 40% higher than official figures

New research in Canada by Dr. John Volpe of the University of Alberta has shown that the actual number of escapes from salmon farms is over 40% per cent higher than the official figures published by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “The message coming out of fisheries and oceans is false,” said Volpe. “Their numbers fly in the face of the data we found and these escapees are endangering other species”. In 1998, Volpe confirmed that Atlantic salmon, having escaped from B.C. salmon farms, had successfully reproduced in a Vancouver Island river. Volpe is now launching a new initiative that calls for full reporting of captured Atlantics and involves the setting up of 200 depots from Alaska to Washington to collect the heads of escaped Atlantic salmon. By studying the otolith – the ear bones of a fish – Volpe’s team will be able to tell if the salmon was wild or farmed.

Farms and hatcheries harm wild salmon

A study published in the journal Science has shown that hatchery and farmed reared salmon can have a harmful effect on wild salmon. The research by the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, analysed a population of chinook salmon, reared by Yellow Island Aquaculture in British Columbia, and found that egg size decreased over only four generations. The researchers are now concerned that hatchery-raised salmon could harm wild populations by inter-breeding to produce reduced egg sizes. This study serves to underline the view that “Hatcheries harm salmon survival”.

Alaska farmed salmon blues

Faced with growing pressure to lift Alaska’s moratorium on fish farming, the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal has come up with the perfect warning cry – a protest song called ‘Alaska Farmed Salmon Blues’. As the AFJ explain on their web-site: “Responding to the explosion of cheap farmed salmon imports from Chile and the prospects for culturing genetically modified fish weighing hundreds of pounds each, AFJ editor John van Amerongen takes his protest and his guitar to the streets – or in this case, the web – for a lyrical poke at the pen-reared competition”. ‘Alaska Farmed Salmon Blues’ is already a big hit with Alaskan fisherfolk fished off with farmed salmon invading their territory and their market - at the recent FisherPoet’s Gathering ‘Alaskan Farmed Salmon Blues’ was played “loud and proud”. Perhaps the Alaskans could persuade Fidel Castro to come up for a singalong? According to The Vancouver Sun, the Cuban leader spoke with reporters for 10 minutes at the Delta Vancouver Airport Inn. In parting he told them to take care of their city “and take care of the salmon - you have the very few natural salmon that still remain in the world”. ‘Alaska Farmed Salmon Blues’ is available to listen to on the web.