I am no fan of farmed salmon. This is no secret. Having grown up in a community that prides itself on its legacy of healthy wild salmon runs, I am particularly sensitive to the creeping demise of these marvelous fish.
The connections between salmon farming and the collapse of wild salmon in areas like British Columbia and Norway are now beyond debate. I cannot count the number of panels I’ve been on and presentations I’ve given where I do my utmost to strip the veils from this industry and expose it for what it is. The vast majority of the farmed salmon consumed by the United States has been produced in a greed-driven, environmentally negligent manner that has polluted our oceans, endangered our native salmon, and hoodwinked the consumer public into thinking that they’re actually eating a healthy product.
I protest the British Columbia farmed salmon industry because of its politics, its parasite and waste problems, and for its heartbreaking effects native salmon runs. I avoid the Scottish and Irish industries because of their greenwashed, boutique-farm marketing schemes, their misleading regulations (organic salmon? From a net pen?), and their farmers’ thuggish habit of blowing seals’ brains out when they come anywhere near the salmon pens. I object to the Norwegian industry for the staggering volume of farmed salmon that they pump onto the world market, and for the unbearable pressure these farms place on wild Norwegian salmon runs.
But what makes me physically ill is the farmed salmon industry in Chile.
Farmed salmon can be a potential hazard to human health. This post concerns an extremely alarming bit of news about the Chilean salmon farming industry. Until very recently, Chile provided the lion’s share of all farmed salmon imported by the United States.
A recent report by the Chilean Ministry of the Economy (and thrust into the limelight by Oceana, a science-based conservation group) has disclosed that the Chilean salmon farming industry used 325.6 metric tons of antibiotics in the year 2008. Compare that to Norway’s salmon farms. The Norwegian industry used 649 kilograms of antibiotics while producing more farmed salmon overall than Chile. That means that Chile used over 350 times more antibiotics per kilogram of salmon produced than Norway.
If this weren’t horrifying enough, hey, it gets worse!
Throughout 2008, the two most popular antimicrobials used used by Chilean salmon farmers were florfenicol (used in 56.7 per cent of the total, or 184 tonnes) and flumequine (in 9.9 per cent, or 32.2 tonnes). This latter chemical belongs to the quinolone family of synthetic antibiotics. Not only is flumequine absent from the US Food and Drug Administration’s list of approved chemicals for use in fish farming, but the FDA has banned the use of most quinolones for their negative effects on human health when used excessively.
What do you think? Do usage levels hundreds of times higher than Norwegian competitors qualify as “excessive”?
And finally, just to add insult to grave potential injury, you’re not going to be able to tell which Chilean salmon were produced the most egregious offenders. The report does not offer guidance as to the amount of antibiotics used by any particular farm, claiming a lack of information. So it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the salmon at your local grocery store has been stuff to the gills with toxins by overzealous salmon farmers.
Luckily, Hugo Lavados, the Chilean Minister of the Environment, soothed all of our fears when he announced that “companies do not medicate fish in the period before commercialising their products.”
Um… wait a minute. I don’t understand — you raise a fish. You give it large amounts potentially harmful antibiotic that is prohibited under US law. Sometime later, you sell it to me. I eat it. How is that not “the period before commercialising the product?”
Personally, I don’t care how much time passes between this chemical barrage and my dinner — it’s not going to be long enough. Moreover, it’s not just about the antibiotics reaching the end consumer. Where else do they go? Do the salmon farmers filter these chemicals (and all the fish detritus containing them) out of the water column that flows uninterruptedly through these open-net fish pens? Somehow, I doubt it. So how many organisms end up consuming or absorbing insane amounts of these chemicals merely because they inhabit nearby real estate?
This industry has always been a monster, but this statistic is simply shocking. If you care about the welfare of our planet, don’t buy any open-net farmed salmon. Don’t buy Chilean farmed salmon regardless of whether you care or not.