Thursday, May 29, 2003

US Salmon - Not A Rosy Picture

NY Times -- Eighty percent of the salmon sold in the United States were raised on farms.

While all salmon in the store may look similar, the Department of Agriculture says farmed salmon contains almost twice the total fat, more than twice the saturated fat and fewer beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon. Last month, consumers learned about another difference, when the class-action lawsuit in Washington called attention to the little-known fact that farmed salmon are not naturally salmon pink or red. The lawsuit accused three supermarket chains of violating Food and Drug Administration regulations by not telling shoppers that farmed salmon were artificially colored, thus leading them to think they were buying wild fish.

In a pilot study conducted in 2000 by Dr. Michael Easton of International EcoGenInc in British Columbia, a company that specializes in the effects of contaminants and pollutants on animals, found that farmed salmon had "consistently higher levels" of toxic contaminants compared with wild salmon, including 10 times the level of PCB's.

The lawsuit also charges that the companies have degraded the water with fish waste, uneaten feed and the toxic chemicals used to kill pests and protect nets. The typical fish farm in Maine has 250,000 fish in about 20 pens. Each pen produces about two metric tons of waste, a volume of waste that surpasses that of a small city, according to Josh Kratka, a senior lawyer with the National Environmental Law Center.

The lawsuit said that heavy infestations of sea lice from salmon farms attached themselves to wild pink salmon as they swam near the farms and killed them, sharply reducing the run this spring from the expected 3.5 million to 147,000.

Alaska has banned fish farms to protect its wild stocks.

Farmed salmon are here to stay, and Rebecca Goldberg, a senior scientist with Environmental Defense, said there are ways to make the process more environmentally friendly: raising the salmon in floating tanks that catch the waste, using second crops like oysters, mussels and seaweed that would make use of the waste. Others have suggested raising salmon in closed systems, and not in the ocean.

But first, the environmentalists say, the authorities have to enforce the laws.

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