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International News, September 2003

Malachite green contamination in Chilean salmon

According to the Chilean newspaper El Diario (28th August), the Chilean Directorate of Fisheries (Sernapesca) has now identified those companies responsible for the latest batches of contaminated farmed salmon. In mid August Sernapesca detained shipments to the European Union after detecting the presence of the fungicide malachite green in seven samples out of a total of 460. This latest incident is in addition to the four container loads of contaminated Chilean farmed salmon detained in July at Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Bilboa in Spain. Sernapesca is expected to file suits against the companies that have used malachite green illegally during September. All Chilean salmon companies exporting to Europe now have their products inspected by the laboratory of the University of Chile. The contamination of farmed salmon with malachite green is the biggest global threat to the future of salmon farming to emerge since the 2001 revelation of dangerous levels of dioxins in farmed salmon. “The existence of containers of ‘top quality’ salmon fillets that are retained in Holland, Spain and now in Chile by sanitary authorities, as well as previous notifications of contaminated shipments in England, constitute the clearest sign that this industry needs a deep and radical modification in its productive management, under an effective control from the government and scrutiny of the citizens” said Juan Carlos Cardenas from Ecoceanos. Updates on the Chilean situation are available on-line.

Nutreco fined for illegal use of malachite green

The largest salmon farming company in the world has been caught using carcinogenic chemicals illegally in Chile. According to Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), Dutch multinational Nutreco were fined in December last year for the illegal use of malachite green. Nutreco, embarrassed by what is fast turning into an international disaster, subsequently refused to appear on Dutch national radio. 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 that broken the Chilean sanitary law, threatens the health of the consumers and destroys the lakes of Los Lagos, X Region (Chile)”. 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. AquaChile follows as the second company in this ranking. According to Cardenas, the current situation of the Chilean subsidiary of Nutreco is contradictive, because in July 2002, the Corporate Director of Food Safety from this company, Reid Hole, declared that “food safety should be the most important issue to the producers of this food industry”; adding that “the tracking systems, as well as the handling and quality measures are fundamental pillars of Nutreco”. Clearly Nutreco are content to treat with contempt both the safety of their workers (malachite green is carcinogenic) and the few remaining consumers of chemically embalmed farmed salmon.

Malachite contamination in Scottish salmon

Chile is not the only country caught up in the malachite green scandal. Scotland is now facing a ban on farmed salmon exports into the European Union after Scottish farmed salmon was found to still be contaminated with malachite green residues. Last year the European Commission warned the UK that if it did not clean up its act then it would face a trade embargo. The Scotsman revealed (5th August) that: "Residues of an illegal, highly toxic fungicide formerly used to clean fish farm cages are still being detected in salmon on sale to the public in Scotland, according to tests carried out by a government agency. Malachite green is a carcinogenic agent that was banned by the Scottish Executive in June last year following discussions between the UK and the European Commission. The chemical is a synthetic fabric dye but was used by the industry because it kills parasites on the sea cage pens in which the fish are farmed". Testing of farmed Scottish salmon for malachite green only began in 2001 but since then 10-20% of all Scottish farmed salmon tested has been found to be contaminated. According to a spokesperson for the Veterinary Medicines Directorate: "Although the use of malachite green was banned in the UK last year, estimates indicate that we can expect to see residues up to around June 2006, and possibly for longer". Until Scottish salmon farmers clean up their act the only safe and sensible choice is to join North American consumers in boycotting contaminated farmed salmon.

PCB contamination in farmed salmon

A report - "PCBs in Farmed Salmon - Factory Methods, Unnatural Results" - published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the United States has once again highlighted the cancer risks of eating salmon. An EWG spokesperson urged people to boycott farmed salmon and go wild: "We're not telling people to stop eating salmon. We're telling people to choose wild salmon, trim the fat and grill or bake it. Don't fry. Those are the ways to keep PCBs off the plate". According to Dr. Steven Schwarz of Long Island College Hospital: "Salmon are being fed a diet which is relatively high in PCBs. I think the study is a very good preliminary view at what we thought in the past was a safe source of protein.” EWG found 70% of the salmon tested contained PCB levels higher than EPA recommendations. And nearly as much wasn’t safe to eat more than once a month. Similar studies in the UK, Ireland and Canada found comparable results. Farmed salmon are grown to be bigger and fatter than wild salmon. But scientists found the food they are fed, small fish, are loaded with PCB’s, in fact 10 times more than wild salmon. “These are compounds that build up, once they’re in your body they stay around for a long period of time,” says Schwartz.

"Chemical-free" farmed salmon?!

Supermarkets in the United States are witnessing a consumer backlash against artificially coloured and chemically contaminated farmed salmon. So much so that some stores are now doing their own testing. Dorothy Lane Market, a three store chain in Dayton with seafood sales of $1.5 million annually, told IntraFish that it sent samples of its Scottish Shetland farmed salmon for testing after a recent Environmental Working Group (EWG) report found high levels of PCBs in seven samples of Atlantic salmon. Jack Gridley, the store’s meat and seafood director, explained that following the publication of the EWG report on PCBs in farmed salmon, sales of the store’s farmed salmon fell by more than 50 percent. Given the fact that the US is now the biggest market for exports of Chilean farmed salmon it is only a matter of time before supermarkets test farmed salmon for malachite green. Unlike its European counterparts the US Food and Drug Administration currently do not test farmed salmon for malachite green. US supermarkets are still reeling from the class lawsuit on artificial colourings in farmed salmon.

Atlantics flood the Pacific

Wild salmon seem to be facing a losing battle against farmed salmon escapees. Already threatened populations of wild Pacific salmon in British Columbia are being inundated by thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon. According to The Olympian (10th August) three-quarters of a million Atlantics have escaped into British Columbian and Washington waters since 1996. Escaped Atlantic salmon have been found in at least 12 Washington rivers, including McAllister Creek and the Nisqually River as well as the Green, Skagit, Cedar, Elwha and Puyallup rivers. Atlantic salmon have successfully spawned in several Vancouver Island rivers, including the Tsitika, Adams and Amor De Cosmos rivers, said Andrew Thomson, head of Canada's Atlantic Salmon Watch program. Escaped Atlantics are now threatening to engulf wild Alaskan salmon. Alaskan officials, commercial fishermen and anglers are terrified of what Atlantic salmon could do to the world's biggest, most pristine Pacific salmon runs, said Bob Piorkowski, Alaska's invasive species program coordinator. Farming the Atlantics is illegal there, but fish from Washington and British Columbia have been found in Alaskan saltwater and some of the state's treasured salmon rivers, including the Copper River, Piorkowski said. "Some of us worry that the population of Atlantic salmon could change the status of Pacific salmon as we know it," Piorkowski said. "British Columbia and Washington told us that Atlantic salmon would never escape, but they did. They told us that they would die if they escaped to salt water, but they didn't. They told us that they wouldn't enter streams, but they did. They told us that they wouldn't successfully spawn, but they did."

Iceland salmon escape

An estimated 3,000 fully grown farmed salmon have escaped in Iceland. The farmed salmon escaped on the way to slaughter. Only 100 of escapees were recaptured so far but many more are expected to rear their ugly heads in wild salmon rivers across Iceland. Mr Arni Isaksson, of the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries, said: "They're large fish, so if they show up somewhere in the next few weeks, we'll know". Speaking on Icelandic TV Orri Vigfusson, President of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund accused the Icelandic authorities of permitting salmon farmers to 'do what they like'. He said: "The Icelandic authorities have no experience and no resources to carry out what is necessary in terms of regulation and monitoring of fish farms. They have no funds to do this. It is close to the harbour, where the vessels are, and the water is very polluted by oil and other contaminants. The fish farmers are claiming the authorities gave them permission to hold the fish in this area. I can't see any justification for that, unless they want to market them already marinated in oil". Dr Vigfus Johannsson, President of the Icelandic Salmon farmers' Association, said: "This has been a tragic accident". Sadly, until salmon farms are forced to adopt closed-containment technology, every single open net-pen and sea cage will be an accident waiting to happen.

California to ban sea cages

Given the problems of escapes it is not surprising that California is proposing to ban sea cages and GM fish. Legislation prohibiting aquaculture companies from producing salmon, 'exotic' finfish species, and genetically-modified fish in the ocean waters of California was approved by the Senate and has now passed to the Governor for approval. Senator Byron Sher said: "This legislation is designed to prevent development and operation of the kind of industrial-scale fish farming that now exists off the coasts of British Columbia, Washington State, South America and Europe. These fish farms have been described as 'feedlots of the sea' because of the tremendous environmental and pollution problems they cause. We don't need those type of operations off the coast of California". The Senate Bill was sponsored by Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and supported by the Institute for Fisheries Resources, The Ocean Conservancy, Sierra Club, the Center for Food Safety, and the California Aquaculture Association. Sher noted that farm-raised salmon in Canada and Europe routinely escape from their ocean net pens by the thousands, competing for habitat with native populations and, in the Atlantic, interbreeding with wild fish. "Without a ban on ocean fish farming, California's remaining stocks of wild salmon would be in even greater peril if the federal government allows the production of 'transgenic' salmon for human consumption. I am hopeful that other states and countries will follow California's example by banning genetically-modified fish from their waters."