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Seafood FAQ: Making Sense of Farmed Salmon Certification

There's no single set of standards, but several programs are in place or under development.

Norway's major salmon farms are working toward certification that meets the standards established by the European organization Eurepgap.
By Lisa Duchene
June 01, 2005

The farmed-salmon industry in recent years has faced increasing scrutiny from environmental groups, the press and seafood buyers. At issue have been concerns about PCB levels in the fish, antibiotic use, the effects of escaped farmed salmon on wild salmon and pollution of nearby waters.

Companies like Marine Harvest and Fjord and industry groups like the Association of the Chilean Salmon Industry and Salmon of the Americas have developed certification programs intended to assure buyers and consumers that farmed salmon is wholesome and produced responsibly and to help the industry strive for better management practices. These certification efforts aren’t just about combating bad press, says Alex Trent, executive director of SOTA. Because it relies on public, natural resources, the farmed-salmon industry must work with its regulators and critics, he adds.

Here is a rundown of current and evolving programs to help buyers sort out salmon-certification options.

Q. How can seafood buyers be sure they’re purchasing the safest, most responsibly produced farmed salmon?

Several certification efforts are under way, aimed at providing these assurances to buyers as well as consumers.

But there is no universal set of responsible practices that encompasses food safety, quality control, environmental effects and worker welfare. Until such a single standard exists, buyers must evaluate programs carefully against their needs, judge whether the standards are acceptable and ask a lot of questions of their suppliers.

Q. So what certification options do farmed-salmon buyers have to choose from?

The three certification efforts with standards in place were organized by SalmonChile, Fundacion Chile and Eurepgap. SOTA is working with the Food Marketing Institute to develop a farmed-salmon component to the Safe Quality Food program already in effect for many other food products. SOTA is also working with the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups to determine common ground on best practices for environmental responsibility.

SalmonChile, short for the Association of the Chilean Salmon Industry, in the last two years developed and launched a program called SIGES, which stands for “integrated management system of the salmon industry.” The 2-year-old SIGES system covers environmental management, fish health, food safety and quality and workers’ health and safety.

Fourteen of Chile’s largest farmed-salmon companies, representing 60 percent of Chilean salmon production, participate in the program, says Rodrigo Infante, general manager of SalmonChile. They include Fjord Seafood, Marine Harvest, Patagonia Salmon Farming, Salmones Mainstream and Salmones Multiexport.

Eurepgap, a European organization  of retailers and producers, in 2004 added a farmed-salmon component to its “good agriculture practices,” which cover commodities including produce and coffee. The salmon addition addresses food safety, worker health, environmental responsibility and fish health standards.

European retailers Ahold and Delhaize as well as McDonald’s Europe partner with salmon producers in the aquaculture standards.

For a farm to  be considered certified, a third party must measure the farm’s performance against the standards. The standards include, for example, recommendations that any genetically modified feed ingredients be identified and that all equipment and systems are designed, installed and operated to minimize risk of fish escapes.

Big salmon producers Fjord Seafood, Marine Harvest and Pan Fish are all working toward certification, says Aldin Hilbrands, global food technical sales manager for SGS Consumer Testing Services, who helped develop the standards. More detail is available at www.eurep.org

Fundacion Chile is a non-profit organization jointly owned by the Chilean government and a U.S. government trade and technology program. In the late 1990s, Fundacion Chile predicted consumers would demand environmental accountability of the products they buy, says Dr. Martin Hevia, the group’s scientific program director. Between 1998 and 2000, Fundacion Chile developed a Code of Environmental Practices for Salmon Farms. The WWF endorses the standards, says Hevia.

In late 2003, Wal-Mart requested audits of 70 farms against the code. Since 2004, 35 audits have been conducted. Two sites have been certified, 17 are recommended and awaiting formal approval and the remaining sites must make some changes in order to be certified, says Hevia. Thirty-five more will be audited in the next year.

Q. Are there other certification programs in the works? 

Salmon of the Americas and the Food Marketing Institute in February announced plans to develop a Safe Quality Food certification program. The project is envisioned as best management practices for safe production of farm-raised salmon.

It encompasses food safety, quality, environmental and worker health and safety and animal welfare issues, says Trent.

Both the producer and processor must be certified for the product to carry SQF certification. Certification for the first round of companies is expected in the fall, says Trent.

There has been good support among retailers, he says, and several are reviewing the draft standards. The program is on track to be available to buyers this fall, says Trent.

The SOTA/WWF effort in late April yielded its first working report, written by Dr. Albert Tacon at the Oceanic Institute in Hawaii. The report analyzed the current scientific knowledge on such issues as the effect of fish escapes on wild salmon populations and the health of wild forage fisheries caught to produce fishmeal.

The goal, says Trent, is for the two sides to agree on what holes exist in the research and influence research dollars toward answering those questions.

Q. How do buyers tap into certification programs and use them to source salmon?

Until there is a single universal set of industry standards, the best thing for buyers to do is ask suppliers whether the farmed salmon they are selling is certified. If so, what program is it certified under? Does the buyer find the program’s certification standards to be acceptable and in line with the store or restaurant’s purchasing criteria?

Ask to see documentation of the product’s certification.

June 2005 - SeaFood Business

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