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'Northern Climes, January 2004'

‘Filthy’ or ‘Insanitary’ Scottish smoked salmon

A number of Scottish suppliers of smoked salmon have earned themselves the distinction of having their products condemned as being ‘filthy’ or ‘insanitary’, according to ‘Import Refusals Reports’ issued by the USA food and drug administration (FDA). The lucky companies are: Loch Fyne Oysters, Lossie Seafoods, Pinneys, (by Royal Appointment to HM The Queen, suppliers of smoked salmon), Gourmet’s Choice Smoked Salmon, Hand-Made Fish, The Tobermory Fish Company, Inverawe Smokehouses and Farne Salmon & Trout of Berwickshire. Over the last year the US FDA has refused to allow the import of over 260 farmed salmon products from Ireland, Scotland, Norway, and Chile.

The FDA defines ‘filthy’ as follows: ‘The article appears to consist in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance or be otherwise unfit for food.’ ‘Insanitary’ is defined as, ‘The article appears to have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health’ FDA figures also show that Scottish salmon is the most likely to be contaminated with listeria, 65% of reported cases.

The companies involved have responded by saying that FDA regulations are impossible to meet and that these were isolated instances; it has also been suggested that inspections have become more rigorous since the 9/11 disaster. Loch Fyne Oysters has simply stopped trying to export their smoked salmon to the US. However, according to a report in an American newspaper last September, it appears that the problem might be even more widespread than imagined:

"Congress and watchdog groups have blasted the FDA for checking less than 2 percent of seafood imports for obvious failings such as decay or false labeling. That limited review led FDA inspectors this year to reject 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.

Drugs can be detected only with more involved laboratory tests. But the FDA tests less than one half of 1 percent of all imported foods for the few drugs it looks for, its records show. Example: More than 177,000 tons of seafood, 40 percent of it salmon, entered the United States through Seattle-area ports last year. That would fill almost 10,000 tractor-trailer rigs. But the FDA has 31 inspectors handling all imports, from lipstick to microwaves.

They test fewer than 400 samples -- only some of them seafood -- for drugs. "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"

Websites run by these companies, and other companies that market smoked salmon, make much of the quality of their product and the care an attention that goes into sourcing only top-quality salmon. Strangely, however, many are unwilling to tell their customers that they are buying farmed fish, the majority of which have been reared on a diet of chemicals, artificial colourants and antibiotics. Indeed, a number of them go to extraordinary lengths to suggest to customers that they are buying wild salmon.

Dundonnell Smoked Salmon in the West Highlands, for instance, use farm salmon, but regale punters with details of wild salmon: ‘Salmo Salar, the North Atlantic Salmon is the King of Fish and is regarded as providing the finest smoked salmon which gives it world wide acclaim' the waters of these remote areas provide the nursery for the emerging salmon eggs. The smolts (young salmon) spend sometimes their first two years in fresh water. Only when they reach a certain size are they able to swim in salt water.’

Pinney’s of Dumfries. ‘Pinney’s has always sought to capture what they believe to be the essence of Scotland. From salmon hors d’oeuvres to genuine Caster kippers. Pinney’s Scottish Gravadlax Salmon hand-sliced - this superior grade of Atlantic salmon is selected according to the strictest criteria.’

Gourmet’s Choice, Portsoy in North East Scotland. ‘Scottish Smoked Salmon. Traditional Scottish Quality. Only the finest quality fresh, Scottish Salmon, specially selected from the pure waters off the islands of Scotland.’

Inverawe Smoked Salmon. Clearly identifies one new product as being wild salmon, but doesn’t give country of origin. Consumers are left to ‘assume’ that other products are farmed.

Hebridean Smokehouse Ltd. ‘From the pristine environment of North Uist we select the finest fish and using only sea salt and peat cut from the Uist moors produce smoked salmon and sea trout of the highest quality with a unique and distinctive peaty flavour. Wild sea trout are found in the tidal waters on the west side of North Uist and it is from these stocks that we originally drew for our Peat Smoked Sea Trout.’

Old Knockelly Smokehouse. ‘Situated in the heart of the Buccleuch country, Dumfriesshire? its riverside location and commanding views of the Scaur Glen set this smokehouse apart from all others.’

Uig Lodge Smoked Salmon. ‘The fresh Atlantic salmon are sourced locally and all treated slightly differently depending upon the size of fish and even weather conditions. Atlantic Salmon mature slowly in the cool clear waters surrounding the Hebrides. We select only the best quality fish and carefully control our traditional smoking process to ensure perfect results every time. No artificial colouring or flavouring is used.’

Glencree Smokehouse. ‘From Galloway, Scotland’s unspoiled south west corner, Glencree brings you the essence of Scottish taste and flavour. Based in the small market town of Newton Stewart, our smokehouse nestles on the banks of the river Cree, which flows through the majestic hills and glens of the Galloway Forest.’ Followed by a description of the Atlantic salmon’s life cycle.

The ‘British Code of Advertising, Sales and Direct Marketing’ that came into force on 4th March this year, is designed to stamp out such blatant flummery and notes: ‘HONESTY (6.1) Marketers should not exploit the credulity, lack of knowledge or inexperience of consumers; TRUTHFULNESS (7.1) No marketing communication should mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise.’ A conservation body recently complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about 25 inaccurate, exaggerated and misleading website claims for smoked salmon. ASA complaints handler Ben Jarman responded promptly: ‘The Code does not apply to organisations’ claims on their own websites.’ The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to give smoked salmon a miss. You never know where it might have been, or came from.

Rod McGill