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International News, May 2003

‘Colour-added’ label must appear on farmed salmon labels

Food safety officials in the United States have put seafood retailers and processors on notice that they will enforce a federal rule requiring artificial colourings such as Canthaxanthin (E161g) or Astaxanthin to be labelled. Retailers must put a placard or tag inside or outside the display case, with lettering at least one-quarter inch high, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. The label must say “color-added”, “artificial color added” or “artificial color”. However, supermarkets across the US are flouting the law. Anne Mosness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is involved in a class action lawsuit against retailers and possibly state agencies, for failing to comply with the federal regulation. “This is definitely a health issue. If they are negligent, they need to be held to task” said Mosness. According to Seafood Business “The action could impact farmed salmon sales if the local media covers the story and gives it a bad spin, says Eric Pohlman, meat and seafood manager at Bell's Thriftway in Aloha, Ore”. Salmon farmers across Europe are monitoring developments in the US will baited bad breath – by the end of the year they must drastically reduce the levels of Canthaxanthin (E161g) in farmed salmon due to public health fears, and the EC are now looking into the safety of Astaxanthin. The UK’s Food Standards Agency are also calling on the European Commission to follow suit with the US and introduce similar labelling laws for farmed salmon with a fake tan. Further information on coloured farmed salmon including a pretty pink picture of a ‘SalmoFan’ ...

Orvis joins farmed salmon boycott to save wild salmon

Orvis, the upmarket sporting goods manufacturer, is discontinuing the sale of farm raised smoked salmon “in response to the mounting tide of evidence of the threats farmed salmon pose to wild Atlantic salmon, a species in danger of extinction in the United States”. CEO Perk Perkins stated that the company was taking action despite significant annual sales in an effort to encourage the salmon aquaculture industry to become more environmentally responsible. “We are calling on consumers, chefs, restauranteurs and fish mongers to voice their concerns and become critical in their salmon buying. Salmon is one of my favorite seafoods, but I won’t order it unless the staff can assure me that it’s Pacific Salmon. Each time I ask, I’m doing my part to save this wonderful fish”. The alternative now being offered by Orvis “is a great-tasting wild fish from Togiak, Alaska, that has proved extremely popular for its flavor and purity”. Orvis said the offering reflects its “commitment to salmon conservation and the well-managed native fisheries that harvest wild fish”.

Organic standards for wild salmon

A key decision in the US Senate clears the way for Alaska salmon and other wild-caught marine fish products to be labeled as “organic”. Current law doesn’t allow the coveted organic label to be put on wild fish but farmed salmon are strangely seen as candidates for ‘organic’. Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said: “The current standards as they apply to fish are a travesty. They allow farmed fish, the very antithesis of organic, to qualify but deny the label to wild fish grown in pristine environments”. Senator Lisa Murkowski said: “Wild salmon from the pristine waters of Alaska are as close to ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ as any product of any type anywhere. Alaska salmon is as wholesome, if not more, than any other organic product on the market. It is hard to believe that some in the government don’t believe wild-caught natural salmon from Alaska are ‘organic’, but are supportive of organic labeling for farm raised salmon – which could contain contaminants not present in wild fish. This amendment will help consumers gain balanced and complete information on the food they buy”. The debate looks set to run and run with the FAO still unclear as to whether ‘wild’ or ‘farmed’ salmon can be labeled as “organic”. This controversial subject will be the focus of an ‘International Organic Aquaculture Workshop’ in June at the University of Minnesota.

‘Wild About Salmon’ in the US

In the United States, a ‘Wild About Salmon’ promotion of wild salmon by chefs, conservationists and fishermen has been launched by the Seafood Choices Alliance. The ‘Alaska Wild Salmon Campaign’, led by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, will also promote the positive attributes of Alaska’s wild and sustainable salmon, such as omega-3 fatty acids and educate consumers about the differences between wild and farmed salmon. The nationwide promotion of wild West Coast and Alaska salmon will feature cooking demonstrations “to encourage appreciation of this seasonal fish. Wild salmon - abundant, well-managed and delicious - is a good environmental choice for people who love seafood”. Dozens of top restaurant chefs will be celebrating the wild salmon season this spring and summer in their restaurants and at select Bloomingdale’s throughout the U.S. ‘Wild About Salmon’ is intended to raise consumer awareness of the importance of making smart seafood choices. “Why choose wild Alaska and West Coast salmon?” asks the Seafood Choices Alliance, answering, “Wild salmon is undoubtedly a best choice in seafood. Choosing ocean-friendly seafood like wild salmon is a winning proposition for everyone - chefs, fishermen, and consumers - because it rewards best management practices and ensures a lasting and diverse supply of seafood”.

Safeway supermarket protest

The international boycott against farmed salmon shows no signs of abating. In the run up to Easter, members of the Nuxalk Nation and the Forest Action Network (FAN) staged a protest outside Safeway’s supermarket in Vancouver. This follows another supermarket protest in March when “Farmed and Dangerous” stickers were placed prominently on farmed salmon packaging. In January an international day of action against the Norwegian multinational Pan Fish saw protests take place as far away as Hong Kong and Germany. More details of the Salmon Farm Protest Group’s “Supermarket Salmon Watch”, including details of ongoing action against Safeway’s in the UK ...

Salmon conservation and aquaculture

A new “Public Forum Information Page” on ‘Salmon Conservation and Aquaculture’ has been established by the University of British Columbia. The web-site provides background material on issues of disease, escapes and effects on marine habitats around farm sites. It asks the question: “What impacts can aquaculture have on wild salmon and how can these risks be minimized?”. This excellent initiative follows a forum featuring Dr John Volpe (University of Alberta), Dr James Butler (Spey Fisheries Board, Scotland), Otto Langer (David Suzuki Foundation), Chief Les Neasloss (Kitasoo Xai-xais Nation) and Linda Sams (B.C. Salmon Farmers Association). The site contains useful links to aquaculture companies, NGOs and to relevant publications. UBC also has some excellent articles on fisheries and aquaculture available to download. Another interesting discussion forum has been set up by CBC.

A sea lice ‘silver bullet’?

The Public Service Employees for Environmental Ethics has blown the whistle on the toxic sea lice chemical Slice (Emamectin benzoate). Slice is a marine pollutant and, as well as killing sea lice, kills other crustacea such as lobsters, crabs and prawns. Speaking on CBC TV, Mike Romain accused the Canadian government of ignoring the dangers in its zeal to keep the aquaculture industry afloat. “They’ve got a bad situation and want to find a silver bullet,” he said. “They’re rushing to do everything at the expense of regulation, sound science and democratic decision-making”. Despite being illegal the Canadian government are turning a blind eye to salmon farmers breaking the law. Slice is manufactured by the US chemical giant Schering Plough and is already licensed in Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Chile and Iceland. However, Schering Plough concede that sea lice resistance to their ‘magic bullet’ is already happening: “the question is not if resistance will occur, the question is when will resistance occur”. Writing in The Vancouver Sun, Craig Orr of Watershed Watch explained: “Lice rapidly develop resistance to all chemical therapeutants (three to five years) and, as long as we practice open-net-cage aquaculture, we’ll always need newer, better and more expensive drug and lice treatments. Lice cost Scottish fish farmers $50 - $70m each year. And Scotland’s wild salmonids still suffer. The real question is what are British Columbians more interested in: embarking on a gigantic ‘integrated pest management control’ program on this coast or protecting the health and well-being of our wild salmon?”

“B.C.’s version of Erin Brockovich”

One woman who has campaigned more than anyone for the health and well-being of wild salmon in British Columbia is the scientist Alexandra Morton. You can read her inspiring “Bear Witness With Me” column on the excellent Raincoast Research web-site. Like Allan Berry in Scotland, British Columbia’s Alexandra Morton has fought a long and lonely battle to convince the authorities that salmon farming is causing a catastrophic impact on wild salmon stocks. After two decades of research both Allan Berry and Alexandra Morton have finally being vindicated. Whilst The Sunday Herald have labelled Allan Berry as the Scottish Executive’s “nemesis”, The Globe and Mail (5th April) acknowledged the work of Alexandra Morton: “Once dismissed as unqualified – even hysterical – Ms Morton is now being hailed as an environmental visionary, coastal B.C.’s version of Erin Brockovich, the California single mother who inspired a movie when she took on a giant public utility that contaminated drinking water”. Given the scale of corruption and contamination involved in salmon farming a movie is surely the next logical step – in the bizarre world of fish farming fact really is stranger than fiction.

BBC film still making waves

As if to prove the point, the award-winning BBC documentary – “The Price of Salmon” – first broadcast in the UK in January 2001 is still making waves around the world. The damning expose of the Canadian, Norwegian and Scottish salmon farming industries was broadcast at the Marin Environmental Film Festival in California in April as part of their “What’s for dinner?” series. “The Price of Salmon”, which featured alarming evidence of cancer-causing dioxins and PCBs in farmed salmon, deformed GM salmon and lice-infested salmon with “death crowns”, was also shown to food writers before the Boston Seafood Show in March. The X-rated horror film has now been shown in over a dozen countries including Ireland, Belgium, New Zealand and the United States. It picked up an award at the International Wildlife Film Festival in 2002 and won a British Environmental Media Award in 2001. It’s global impact can be judged by comments made last year by the CEC of the world’s largest salmon farming company, Nutreco. At Nutreco’s AquaVision conference in June 2002, Wout Dekker referred to the fallout from the BBC documentary when he admitted that “the impact is still there - the reality now is that we have to deal with it”. Nutreco should know how hard-hitting the BBC documentary was – the broadcast in the UK in January 2001 precipitated a 15% fall in Nutreco’s share price. The full script of the programme can be downloaded here (as a PDF).

‘Environmental’ group prostitutes itself to Nutreco

The so-called Norwegian ‘environmental’ group Bellona is attracting international criticism for its cosy relationship with the world’s largest salmon farming company, Nutreco. So pleased are Nutreco at their working relationship that they have rewarded Bellona with a three-year ‘agreement’ which they flaunt in their “Social and Environmental Report”. Last year Nutreco paid several of the Bellona staff to go on a busman’s holiday to Chile and their leader Frederic Hauge was rewarded with an invitation to speak at Nutreco’s ‘AquaVision’ conference. Nutreco’s three-year investment seems to have bought Bellona’s silence. According to The Vancouver Province (1st April) “The furious, noisy fight over British Columbia's fish farming is in stark contrast to the debate in Norway, which seems scarcely louder than a polite murmur”. The article quotes Marius Holm of Bellona: “Most Norwegians are OK about fish farming,” he admits as he lies back and thinks of all Nutreco’s money. “Since we are one of the major nations in salmon farming, we tend to be automatically proud of the things we are good at”. Not everyone in Norway though are proud of the undignified manner in which Bellona is prostituting itself – according to the Dagbladet newspaper, Friends of the Earth Norway (Naturvernforbundet) have labelled Bellona a “call-girl” for jumping into bed with Nutreco.