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One Man's Opinion: Salmon farmers continue PR battle
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
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
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
The story left the overwhelming impression that Chilean
salmon farming was for all intents and purposes an
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