Farmed Salmon Solution
The Pew Charitable Trusts held a press conference yesterday to heighten awareness of the global farmed salmon industry's flaws. Conference participants included an environmentalist, a scientist, a consumer advocate and a chef. But a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner, the fifth and final participant, offered the only realistic solution when he said the industry's troubles must be attacked at the source.
The farmed salmon industry's woes have been well documented in the press this year. Sea lice infestations in British Columbia, the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) outbreak in Chile and a Chilean government task force's criticism of the industry's "intensive" use of antibiotics continue to grab headlines. And just this week, German food-safety authorities announced the discovery of traces of the fungicide crystal violet and the parasiticide abamectina, both prohibited substances, in two samples of Chilean salmon imports.
So yesterday, conference participants called on the FDA to increase testing of farmed salmon imports, claiming the agency tested only 40 samples of Chilean salmon imports for banned substances last year.
They also advised consumers to avoid eating farmed salmon. "Currently, there's not enough [salmon] produced in an environmentally friendly manner to say, 'Buy this kind of salmon.' So we urge consumers … to diversify their purchases and look to other kinds of fish," said Gerald Leape, director of Pew's Salmon Aquaculture Reform Campaign.
But none of the conference participants offered any realistic solutions to the industry's woes, except William Hubbard, former FDA associate commissioner for policy and planning. The answer, he said, lies at the source.
"The solution is not for FDA to test every sample of fish. It's to fix the problem [at the source]. The solution is to give FDA and other agencies the ability to say to [producers], 'We're not going to buy your seafood unless you make it in a safe, environmentally conscious way,'" explained Hubbard. "FDA recognizes that it's not going to get the additional funding and staff it needs to [inspect farmed salmon] facilities on a regular basis, and you can't inspect them into compliance."
Hubbard pointed to the FDA's decision in July to draft guidance for third-party certification programs to ensure certified food imports meet FDA requirements. The agency is currently evaluating third-party certification programs for farmed shrimp.
"Then FDA's role would become one of checking behind [the certification] to ensure compliance," said Hubbard. "That is a model FDA would like to pursue … because it [won't require] the tremendous resource boost it would need" to increase testing of food imports significantly.