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One Man's Opinion: Salmon farmers continue PR battle

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Peter Redmayne
May 01, 2008

Over the years, the salmon-farming industry has endured its fair share of abuse at the hands of the media. And no media outlet has probably produced more heartburn for salmon farmers over the years than the New York Times.

Back in 2003, for example, Times writer Marion Burros penned a piece that ran with the headline: "Eating Well: Farmed Salmon Is Said to Contain High PCB Levels."

The story started out all right. According to Burros, farmed salmon "is one of those foods that nutritionists say is good for you, and the Food and Drug Administration says you can eat as much of it as you like." It went downhill from there, quoting the results from a non-peer reviewed study by an environmental advocacy group. The group tested 10 samples of salmon purchased from markets on the East and West coasts. The results showed that the samples contained PCB levels of 27 parts per billion and that the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that people who eat fish twice a week should consume fish containing no more than 4 to 6 ppb of PCBs.

The story did point out that the FDA's tolerance level for PCBs in fish is 2,000 ppb, but no explanation was offered as to why there was such a huge discrepancy between the FDA and EPA tolerance levels. At the end of the day, consumers were left with the impression that farmed salmon had high levels of PCBs.

This was not the first study commissioned by environmental groups regarding PCBs in farmed salmon. The farmed salmon industry responded with a few new press releases, made some calls to newspapers to refute the studies and went back to growing fish.

The Times once again raised the hackles of salmon farmers this spring when it published a story on the challenges facing Chile's farmed salmon industry, "Salmon Virus Indicts Chile's Fishing Methods" [see Newsline story, p.8].

The article reported on the substantial losses the Chilean industry is suffering due to a serious, ongoing outbreak of ISA (infectious salmon anemia). The article claimed farmers use high doses of antibiotics, including some antibiotics that have been banned by the U.S. government, and also used hormones to grow fish.

The story left the overwhelming impression that Chilean salmon farming was for all intents and purposes an environmental disaster.

This time around, though, salmon farmers decided they weren't going to lay low and wait for this latest attack to blow over. Instead of just complaining to the editors, Chilean salmon farmers fought back by booking ads in a number of U.S. newspapers, including the Times. Among other facts in the story it challenged, the Chilean ad pointed out that ISA cannot be fought with antibiotics and that hormones have never been used in salmon farming.

No doubt the damage was done. The Times article, albeit inaccurately, reinforced once again the negative image of farmed salmon. Still, it was refreshing to see the seafood industry fight back and put its money where its mouth is. Hopefully, it is a trend that will continue.


Contributing Editor Peter Redmayne lives in Seattle



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