Toxins, eco-damage paint ugly picture
by Craig Weatherby

Last issue, we reported on several recent studies that found very high levels of toxic PCBs in farmed salmon. In one test of random samples from supermarkets, farmed salmon had 16 times the PCB levels in wild salmon, four times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the levels found in other seafood.

And other damaging reports combined this summer to form a perfect storm of bad publicity for farmed salmon. Here are two pertinent ones to pass on to friends and family. (Just click the "Forward" link at the upper right on this page.)

Salmon Farms Take Twin Hits Over Eco-Damage

Maine farms lose lawsuit; Farm regulation found lax
In May of 2003, U.S District Court Judge Gene Carter ordered Maine's biggest salmon farmers to stop polluting the seafloor with fish waste and toxic chemicals, and cease stocking their farms with European salmon—fish that have escaped to the wild and threaten the genetic integrity of wild Atlantic salmon. The salmon farms appealed Judge Carter's ruling, but in August the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Carter's strongly worded ruling—in its entirety.

A few weeks before his landmark ruling, Judge Carter found the Atlantic Salmon Company of Maine (ASM) in contempt of court for defying an earlier order to cease raising European salmon. At that time, he offered a scathing opinion of the general attitude of the defendants: "It is the court's perception that ASM.'s leadership has single-mindedly pursued a policy, in the interests of the company's economic well-being and future profitability, of frustrating the fruition of all efforts… to secure and ensure its compliance with… [the Clean Water Act].

The same day that Judge Carter issued his ruling, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) released a report documenting years of inaction by governments of seven large salmon-farming countries, including the U.S. The report said the seven governments have ignored a disturbing decline in the numbers of wild salmon, and have failed to reduce the impacts of North Atlantic salmon farming practices.

As ASF president Bill Taylor said, ''Research by governments and scientific bodies clearly states that salmon farming can and does present a risk to wild salmon, notably through the threats posed by diseases and parasites, especially sea lice." The lice eat through their flesh, weakening the wild salmon or killing them outright.

Fungicides—and More—Found in Imported Salmon
On September 14, The Oregonian newspaper reported that this year European countries had already seized dozens of tons of farmed salmon from Chile contaminated with malachite green—a fabric dye banned here as a suspected carcinogen. Malachite green has also been found in British farmed salmon, and a European Commission science panel says it poses a risk of birth defects and general harm to public health. Recently, Japanese authorities also found excessively high levels of antibiotics in Chilean salmon.

All Chilean salmon is farm-raised. It is common in American supermarkets, and increased imports will likely rise under a free trade agreement President Bush signed with Chile this month.

The FDA tests salmon for only one of the more than 30 drugs used by foreign fish farms. Nor does the FDA test for the livestock pesticide that UK authorities found in their country's own farmed salmon in 2001. An anonymous FDA official admitted to The Oregonian that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is overwhelmed by the challenge of testing the four billion pounds or more of seafood imported each year from more than 160 countries.

Even with the woefully inadequate testing now in place, in 2003 FDA inspectors rejected more than 200 loads of salmon from Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom and elsewhere for being dirty, decayed or infected. U.S. officials told The Oregonian they would expand testing later this year. And starting next year, stores will have to disclose the origin of imported seafood.

  • Atlantic Salmon Federation, World Widlife Fund. "Protecting Wild Atlantic Salmon from Impacts of Salmon Aquaculture."
  • The European Commission Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, Weekly overview of alert and information notifications—week 28, 2003.
  • Milstein M. "Imported seafood goes untested," The Oregonian, September 14, 2003.