The defense never rests


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
February 26, 2009

There's a simple reason why Salmon of the Americas (SOTA) is constantly rebuking news outlets and setting the record straight about their product: The mainstream media consistently get it wrong when it comes to farmed salmon.

Last week SeafoodSource reported that SOTA, a Miami-based trade group that represents salmon farmers in Canada, Chile and the United States, blasted USA Today for irresponsible reporting. The newspaper's 23 January article, "Something fishy? Counterfeit foods enter the U.S. market," highlighted seafood as one of the most commonly "faked" foods on the market, citing species substitution as the chief example.

Fair enough - species substitution is regrettably a common form of economic fraud that the industry and federal government are aware of. After mentioning tales of skate wings being carved into scallops, USA Today quotes Spring Randolph, a consumer safety officer with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, as saying the color can "leak out" of farmed salmon when cooked, as opposed to wild salmon, which retains its color.

After finding her phone number on the FDA's Web site, I called Randolph and asked about her comments in the article, which she said she hadn't seen, but added that she had shared anecdotes with the reporter about experiences in her own kitchen, not about research conducted by FDA scientists. I'm not even sure that Randolph knew she was on the record, which is both her fault and the reporter's, who might have known right away that her source was untrained in media relations.

So instead of a juicy exposé, USA Today just perpetuated a myth that farmed salmon is "dyed." It's well documented that salmon feed contains astaxanthin or canthaxanthin, synthetic nutrients intended to mimic the diet of wild salmon and give the flesh its familiar, appealing orange-red hue.

SOTA has also criticized the New York Times for its coverage of the industry in Chile, which is dealing with unprecedented fish disease challenges. An article earlier this month misled readers to believe, SOTA said, that the salmon farming industry was not in compliance with FDA guidelines regarding banned substances. Last year, the Times wrote another critical piece using a source identified as a port director who was later revealed to be a security guard (the paper printed a correction after taking heat from SOTA).

Even studies or reports proven false can resurface somewhere else, stated as fact. So SOTA has no other choice but to take on these instances - it's their job. All too often, it's ours as well.

Thank you,
James Wright
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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