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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Pesticide in Farmed Canadian Salmon Highlights U.S. Laxity

Canadian agency finds “organic” salmon contaminated with carcinogenic dye

by Craig Weatherby

In a case that points up the inadequacy of governmental oversight of American salmon farms, Canadian government tests turned up pesticide residues in salmon raised on two separate fish farms in British Columbia.

Late last month, tests conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency turned up traces of a fungicide called malachite green in salmon from two farms located on Vancouver Island.

Natural supermarkets shun BC salmon

Whole Foods Market, the giant natural foods retail chain, cancelled a 68 ton order from Creative Salmon in November of 2003.

This action came after the Coastal Alliance Against Aquaculture Reform placed an ad in the New York Times, criticizing the environmental impact of British Columbia salmon farms.  Whole Foods denied any connection.

Earlier this year, Whole Foods main competitor, the Wild Oats natural grocery chain, said they would not carry any farmed salmon from British Columbia, because most of the BC fish farms it examined did not meet its environmental standards.

Creative Salmon, one of the farms whose fish were tested, claims never to have used malachite green, but suspended sales of its Chinook salmon voluntarily. The testing lab reported finding 0.33 parts per billion in the “organic” salmon: less then the safe exposure level of 2 parts per billion set by the European Union, but in violation of Canada's strict "zero tolerance" policy.

Fifteen other farm fish samples taken by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) during the same period (JuneAugust 2004) showed no evidence of malachite green.

Foreign salmon farmersespecially in Chilehave long used malachite green, an industrial dye, to kill fungi on salmon eggs (Under U.S. regulations, domestic salmon farms are not supposed to use malachite green). Recent years have seen repeated findings of excessive residues in the flesh of salmon from farms in Europe and Chile.

The most recent finding relates to salmon that the farm's owner—Creative Salmon Company, Ltd—claims are raised “organically” on certified organic feed, without antibiotics or pesticides, using “sustainable farming practices.” However, their salmon's actual status is unclear, since, as their Web site says, their standards are “under review” and organic certification is “pending.”

To date, the U.S. government has not issued any regulations allowing use of the label “organic” on farmed seafood.

Canadian finding highlights U.S. foot-dragging

Beyond the finding of malachite green in salmon from two Canadian fish farms, the most important aspect of this story is that the U.S. isn't even testing domestic farmed salmon for the pesticide's presence.

The problem is that we don't know whether U.S salmon farms are using malachite green, since there is no testing program.  According a report by Consumer's Union, “This fiscal year [2004-2005], the FDA plans to test catfish—80 samples of domestic, 80 of imported—for malachite-green residues.… Plans to test salmon are on hold, an FDA spokeswoman says, while the agency assesses detection methods.”

We suggest they figure that out sooner, rather than later. It seems that the Europeans and Canadians have no problem testing for this potential carcinogen.

Under FDA regulations, U.S. salmon farms are allowed to use several antibiotics to control infections, and six other drugs, including the pesticides Formalin-F and Paracide-F. There is no mandatory withdrawal time prior to salmon harvest and there is no prescription required.

We hope that Congressional debate over the new aquaculture bill before them (see “Proposed Law Would Allow First Fish Farms in Federal Waters” in our last issue) will result in a stringent contaminant-testing program for all farmed fish.


  • Easton MD, Luszniak D, Von der GE. Preliminary examination of contaminant loadings in farmed salmon, wild salmon and commercial salmon feed. Chemosphere. 2002 Feb;46(7):1053-74.
  • National Aquaculture Association. Drugs Used in the US Aquaculture Industry (November 2003).  Accessed online July 29, 2005 at
  • Seafood: Farmed vs. wild. Accessed online July 29, 2005 at