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International News, October 2003

Japan finds antibiotics in Chilean farmed salmon

In early September, the Japanese authorities prohibited the entry to an undetermined number of containers of ‘top quality’ farmed salmon from Chile, due to the detection of high levels of antibiotics residues in its flesh. “High levels of the toxic antibiotic oxytetracycline found in farmed salmon from Chile are sending shock waves through the industry”, reported the Anchorage Daily News (13th September). "Oxytetracycline hydrochloride is an acutely toxic fungicide listed with a skull-and-crossbones warning by the Pesticide Action Network, which tracks current toxicity and regulatory information for pesticides. The PAN states that oxytetracycline is known to cause reproductive or developmental disorders, among other problems”.

Coming so soon after the detection of malachite green, this latest incident represents a potential fatal body blow to the international reputation of Chilean farmed salmon. The Norwegian Seafood Export Council quickly distanced itself from its Chilean counterparts by issuing a statement saying that Norwegian salmon farmers do not use oxytetracycline. Meanwhile, Scottish and Irish salmon farmers will be watching developments in Japan and Chile with keen interest. Oxytetracycline has also been detected in farmed Scottish salmon on sale in UK supermarkets and scientific studies have shown contamination of sediments under Irish salmon farms.

Japan to ban Chilean farmed salmon?

Following the detection of oxytetracycline and the ongoing scandal of malachite green, Japan has decided to test all shipments of Chilean farm salmon. Japanese health officials warned that further contamination incidents could lead to a complete ban on imports of Chilean farmed salmon to Japan. Last year the European Union issued the UK with a similar warning after illegal residues of malachite green were detected in Scottish farmed salmon.

A trade ban on farmed Chilean salmon could have major repercussions for the Chilean economy. The most exported industrial product from Chile in the first half of this year was salmon, with shipments totalling US$576 million - a 24.7% increase from the same period in 2002. The Japanese market represents ca. 40% of Chilean salmon much of which ends up in sushi and sashimi. According to Ecoceanos (2nd September): “The National Director of the Chilean National Fisheries Service, Sergio Mujica, yesterday traveled urgently to Japan to deal personally with this situation directly with Japanese authorities”.

This is not the first time Chile has been caught using high levels of antibiotics - in July this year Dr Felipe Cabello revealed that the Chilean fish-farm salmon industry uses up to 75 times more antibiotics than Norway. Ecoceanos’ Executive Director Juan Carlos Cardenas said: “This new blockade of a salmon shipment evidences the undiscriminated use of chemical substances in the Chilean intensive fish-farm industry and reaffirms the demands of local coastal communities, environmental groups and other organized citizens for a radical change in the philosophy and environmental, sanitary and labour practices of this mega-industry”.

US and Canada still not testing for malachite

Two months after the carcinogen malachite green was detected by the European Commission in Chilean farmed salmon, the United States Food and Drug Administration and Canada’s Food Inspection Agency are still not screening farmed salmon for the banned fungicide. The FDA said that tests for malachite green in farmed salmon would not be ready until 2004. Random testing of farmed salmon will also include the toxic chemicals ivermectin, nitrofurans and floroquinolones. According to The Oregonian (14th September): “Federal officials said they fear that Americans are being exposed to harmful drugs in farmed fish and plan to expand testing later this year. One official who spoke on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is swamped by the more than 4 billion pounds of seafood entering the country annually from more than 160 countries”.

Seafood and in particular farmed salmon slips through the net it seems: “The FDA has identified more than 30 drugs used in foreign aquaculture, according to a report by a deputy director in the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. Federal law bars seafood containing the drugs from entering the country. But the FDA tests for only five of them, some in only certain products. Salmon is tested for one drug, shrimp for four. By contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tests imported meat and poultry for more than 50 drugs”. Whilst the FDA screens 16% of imported meat it only tests 2% of seafood. Last year the U.S. rejected “more than 200 loads of salmon from Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom and other countries because they were filthy, putrid or infected with harmful bacteria such as listeria”.

“We’re spread pretty thin,” a local FDA official said. The FDA allowed him to speak to The Oregonian only on the condition he not be named. In the absence of government testing - supermarkets are taking steps to safeguard human health. Costco’s vice president of fresh foods, Jeff Lyons, told The Oregonian that his company would begin testing for the product in the near future: “We’re going to make sure there’s a full-court press on this. We’re going to make sure our suppliers are on notice this is absolutely prohibited”.

Nutreco caught in malachite scandal

According to Ecoceanos (12th September), Marine Harvest Chile is one of the companies involved in the recent seizure of contaminated farmed salmon. Three containers loads of farmed Chilean salmon were seized by Dutch food safety officials in July after testing positive for malachite green.

Marine Harvest is a corporate branch of the Dutch transnational Nutreco, the main producer of cultivated salmon worldwide, and in Chile is the top leading company in the ranking of volume and value of exported salmon. Vivian Krause, corporate development manager at Marine Harvest Canada (owned by Nutreco), admitted that the contamination of Chilean farmed salmon with malachite green was a serious food safety issue which demanded urgent action: “I think we’ll see some changes. The fact that it’s been detected tells us all that it’s been used in the past, and it shouldn’t be,” Krause told Intrafish (16th September).

According to Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), Nutreco were also fined in December last year for the illegal use of malachite green. Nutreco, embarrassed by what is fast turning into an international public relations disaster, have refused to appear on Dutch national radio to explain the ongoing malachite green crisis. Juan Carlos Cardenas, Director of Centro Ecoceanos said: “It is unacceptable and unjustifiable that a transnational company like Nutreco/Marine Harvest, that is suppose to have the most higher sanitary and environmental standards, is currently involved in this type of illegal conduct”.

Salmon propaganda

The public relations problem facing salmon farmers all over the world is the subject of an excellent expose of international PR firm Hill and Knowlton – hired by the British Columbian Salmon Farmers’ Association in a doomed attempt to restore public confidence in farmed salmon. Written by Kim Petersen and published in Dissident Voice, “Salmon Propaganda” is a follow up to Kim’s previous investigation into the murky waters of Hill and Knowlton - “Farmageddon and the Spin Doctors”.

Commenting on Hill and Knowlton’s involvement, Don Staniford of the Salmon Farm Protest Group said: “That salmon farmers in British Columbia are prepared to jump into bed with a PR company who deals in international disasters such as the Gulf War and Three Mile Island illustrates the depth of the crisis facing Canadian salmon farming. Yet, even the expensive fire-fighting emergency services of Hill and Knowlton cannot mask the stench of corruption and contamination currently coming from Canadian salmon farming. No amount of PR patter can hide the fact that farmed salmon is contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals such as PCBs and dioxins. Like their Scottish, Irish and Chilean counterparts the BCSFA are fighting a losing battle to persuade the general public that farmed salmon is anything other than a fatty, artificially coloured, contaminated, cheap and nasty product. Money can clearly buy you the best PR company in the world but no amount of money can buy back consumer confidence and public trust”.

Salmon farmers publicise anti-farmed salmon film

Even the most expensive PR advisers it seems make mistakes. Environmental groups in Canada are delighted by a PR gaffe from the British Columbian Salmon Farmers’ Association. The industry’s expensive PR advisers Hill and Knowlton graciously issued a press release – “Screening of ‘Net Loss’ Salmon Documentary Adds to Misinformation Campaign” - prior to the broadcast of yet another damning documentary on the dangers of salmon farming. “This documentary contains old, inaccurate information and is clearly intended to add to the misinformation against salmon aquaculture….The documentary falsely alleges that salmon farming is a threat to the survival of the wild salmon runs and that it has economic and environmental repercussions,” read the salmon farmers’ press release thus ensuring acres of free publicity for the film.

Environmentalists can personally thank the PR genius responsible – step forward Kara Kingston, Senior Consultant, Communications at Hill and Knowlton’s Vancouver office (Direct phone: 604-692-4222 or email: kara.kingston@hillandknowlton.ca). Sponsored by the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform and broadcast on 16th September at Simon Fraser University the documentary – “Net Loss - The Storm over Salmon Farming” – proved a big hit with an audience of over 200 university researchers, journalists, environmental groups and First Nations. Lynn Hunter of the CAAR said: “I think the film is a very well put together compilation of the issues that the industry is facing and those of us who are trying to get it to change. Salmon farmers are hyper-sensitive to any criticism. Their claim that the industry has a strong relationship with First Nation groups is self-delusional - there are at least two pending lawsuits by First Nation groups against salmon farmers. This is where BCSFA has a problem with credibility, because they deny that problems exist”.

Not to be outdone by their Canadian counterparts, the Irish RTE network broadcast a ‘Prime Time’ documentary on 18th September. Featuring a catalogue of crimes committed by salmon farmers across Ireland, the documentary was shown to millions in the peak TV slot. Read the fall-out in the next issue of International News.

Communication problems continue in Maine

All is not well with the supposedly transparent and public consultation over the future of aquaculture in Maine, USA. According to Ron Huber of Penobscot Bay Watch: “A communication gap appears to be happening in the operations of the Maine Aquaculture Task Force. The state officials responsible for forwarding your and other members of the public’s comments to the members of the Task Force have NOT been doing so”.

It seems government officials have been screening public comments and only passing on those deemed worthy of consideration. “Three DMR officials are ‘running’ the task force. They admitted under questioning by task force members during the September 4th meeting that they were withholding from the Task Force the many letters and emails sent it by the public and fishing and conservation groups since the task force began….None of these officials had an explanation for why they had been withholding this information from the Task Force, nor did they say how many emails and letters they had received”.

The Maine government stands accused of blatant bias: “This censorship by DMR is completely irresponsible on the part of DMR and suggests very strongly that those that say the agency to be in the hip pocket of the fishpen industry are quite correct. The Task Force members have inexcusably and needlessly been deprived of useful public and NGO input during the critical first 1/3 of the Task Force's scheduled life time,” concludes Ron Huber. If anyone has sent information to the Maine Aquaculture Task Force you can re-send it to Ron Huber at Penobscot Bay Watch: POB 1871 Rockland, Maine 04841 or via email: coastwatch@acadia.net

Canadian Indians challenge salmon farms in court

Cowboys in the salmon farming industry are looking anxiously over their shoulder. According to The New York Times (14th September) native Indians in Canada are on the warpath: “The Indians are waging their battle in the courts, on constitutional grounds. The Sierra Legal Defense Fund has filed a suit in the British Columbia Supreme Court on behalf of the Tsawataineuk, Kwicksutaineuk, Namgis and Gwaraenuk bands who live in the maze of islands and for whom the salmon has a mystical importance. The Indians of the Broughton Archipelago have chosen to make their fight in the courts, citing the country's constitutional obligation to protect their fishing and rights”.

The lawsuit aims to force Heritage Salmon Limited and Stolt Sea Farm Inc., two multinational companies that operate in British Columbia as well as Norway, Scotland and Chile, off their sacred territories. “These people are playing God with our lives,” said Arthur Dick, a hereditary chief of the Namgis nation. “Even the eagles are moving”. “Clams, prawns, crabs, salmon - we had it all at our fingertips. It’s all being depleted because of all the algae, the sea lice and the contamination the fish farms are putting in our territory”, said Henry Scow, the chief of the Kwicksutaineuks.

Pan Fish down the pan

Heritage and Stolt are not the only salmon farming companies in the dock. According to Intrafish (11th September), Pan Fish subsidiary Omega Salmon is being investigated for potentially harming native habitat at its Kent Island site that it illegally occupied last spring. John Lewis, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s chief of regulatory affairs for the central coast, told IntraFish that the government is trying to determine if the producer violated section 35 of Canada’s Fisheries Act - which prohibits the alteration or destruction of fish habitat. If Pan Fish are found guilty the company could be fined up to $300,000 or an individual held personally responsible could be sent to prison for six months.

Omega Salmon was recently fined $5,500 for farming salmon without a permit and in August announced 200 job losses in British Columbia alone. Pan Fish has already closed 12 of its 18 salmon sites in British Columbia and has reduced fish production from 5 to 1.5 million due to Infectious Hematapoetic Necrosis. Pan Fish is the parent company of Lighthouse of Scotland who wants to expand on the River Tweed in Scotland. Pan Fish’s plans have already aroused the anger of angling groups across Scotland who have formed the Campaign Against Tweed Salmon Farm. One CATSF activist told The Scotsman (5th September): “We are in effect declaring war on Lighthouse after they ignored warnings about the environmental consequences of their inappropriate project”. Members of the campaign include the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, the Salmon & Trout Association, the Scottish Anglers National Association and the Association of River Trusts. Nick Yonge, speaking for the River Tweed Commissioners said: “The strength of opposition to this development is unprecedented, and comes from all quarters”.

‘Frankenfish’ to flood the international marketplace?

With genetically engineered fluorescent fish now being sold in pet shops across Asia and over 40 fish species already being experimented on around the world, a new wave of GE fish is fast approaching. According to the Malaysian Strait Times (10th September), scientists have genetically engineered zebrafish to produce hepatitis B vaccines in their muscles - a kilo of fish muscle could produce 27g. Associate Professor Gong Zhiyuan from the National University of Singapore said the technology could soon be extended to other food fish, such as salmon. “It’s cheaper to culture fish, and there’d be no worry of diseases being transmitted to humans, unlike with mammals such as cows. We haven’t reached the stage yet where we know how many fish you have to eat for a correct dose of vaccine, but based on the high levels of the protein they produce, it shouldn’t be much,” he said.

AquaBounty are also gearing up for the GE revolution and believe ‘Super salmon’ could be on supermarkets shelves within a year. Aqua Bounty were recently (11th September) awarded a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Advanced Technology Program to develop a genetic technique that allows fish farmers to breed fish safely in captivity but prevents the same fish from reproducing if they escape into the wild. “Reversible sterility is a platform technology that will allow the $52-billion global aquaculture industry to triple production over the next two decades, as it must do to meet the expanding demand for seafood,” said Elliot Entis, the Aqua Bounty president and CEO. “By removing the risk that farmed fish might breed in the wild, this technology opens the door for many new species in fish farming, including transgenic fish and non-native species in locations that do not now have access to the best-performing livestock”.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology said it wished to back Aqua Bounty’s work because it could give the US a lead in this new technology: “Expected economic benefits include possibly decreasing the current US trade deficit in fish products and generating an additional $850m a year within the US economy, while lowering labour costs and increasing productivity of aquaculture farming”. According to the Scottish broadsheet The Herald (12th September), AquaBounty’s new development “is expected to be resisted fiercely by the Scottish and European fish farming industries, which hold GM foods to be anathema to consumers”. AquaBounty’s previous Scottish field trials of their genetically modified salmon at Otter Ferry on the banks of Loch Fyne were shelved back in 1996 after a public outcry. Similar trials of AquaBounty’s GE salmon in New Zealand were also halted in 2000 although the company responsible – King Salmon – has kept GE salmon eggs in the freezer ready for when the public warm to the idea of ‘Frankenfish’.