Campaigners urge retailers to reform purchasing practices
by Craig Weatherby

On October 31, the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) ran a half-page ad in The New York Times, urging major grocery chains (Safeway, Whole Foods Market, Albertsons, Krogers, Trader Joe's, Costco) to stop selling farmed salmon. Then, on November 5, people heeding CAAR's call gathered near Safeway and Whole Foods Market stores in selected cities to protest the sale of farmed salmon. CAAR says that these actions initiate a sustained campaign targeting large retailers.

Addicted to farm-raised profits
Most supermarket and big-box discount chains have long known about the serious problems associated with farmed salmon—and they've depended upon consumer ignorance and indifference to preserve one of their biggest profit centers. In spite of increasing media attention and better informed customers, retailers are loath to wean themselves from this highly profitable product line. Farmed salmon is cheap, readily available, cosmetically perfect, of consistent—albeit mediocre eating quality—and, until recently was equated in consumers' minds with wild salmon and all its health-promoting properties.

While many chains will likely continue to sell farmed salmon, it is becoming increasingly difficult for eco-stores like Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats to reconcile their "green" marketing message with the sale (in huge quantities) of a product on the "Avoid-Worst Choice" black list of virtually every major environmental organization.

What's all the fuss about?
These are some of the key issues that lead consumers to heed CAAR's call to action. Our thanks go to CAAR for the information in these bullet points:
  • Preliminary findings suggest that farmed salmon contain far higher levels of toxic PCBs and dioxins than wild salmon: higher, in fact, than in any other seafood or meat.
  • Farmed salmon is much higher in saturated fats than wild salmon. North Americans' diets are already very igh in saturated fats: intake levels associated with heart disease.
  • Farmed salmon are frequently fed antibiotics, which contribute to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Massive deposits of waste matter from salmon farms degrade the coastal environment, whose health is vital to the overall marine ecology.
  • With very few exceptions, farmed salmon are raised in open net cages in the ocean. These nets can tear, allowing farmed salmon to escape into the wild, and interbreed with or crowd out wild species. Industry admits that more than one million farmed salmon have escaped into Pacific waters since 1988: many experts believe the real figure is much higher.
  • Escaped Atlantic salmon compete with wild salmon—particularly steelhead—for habitat, and have been known to eat wild salmon fry and eggs. Escaped farmed salmon have been found spawning, and juveniles seen surviving, in the wild.
The Dear John letter
The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform urges people to send protest letters or faxes to the presidents of their local supermarket chains—with Safeway and Whole Foods Market as prime targets. This is the sample letter CAAR offers on their Web site:

Dear Mr. Steven A. Burd (Safeway) and Mr. John Mackey (Whole Foods),

As your customer, I look to you and trust that you will supply me with healthy and sustainable foodstuffs – products that I can feel good about buying. Upon learning about the salmon farming industry and the way in which it operates, I was disturbed to learn that you sell their products.

I am writing to let you know that I will not be buying salmon from you until I can be sure that it is a healthy, sustainable choice. Please take my concerns to your suppliers and let them know that you require that they source their farmed salmon only from companies employing technology that:

    • Eliminates the risk of disease transfer to wild fish and escapes of salmon into the wild
    • Prevents fish farm waste from being released into the ocean
    • Labels all farmed fish so consumers can make informed choices
    • Uses fish feed that does not result in a global loss of seafood (e.g., herring) for human consumption
    • Ensures that wildlife is not harmed as a result of fish farming
    • Prohibits the use of genetically modified fish
    • Respect the views of coastal residents and do not locate farms where First Nations or other communities object

Until such a time, I can assure you that I will think twice when visiting your seafood counter.