The United Salmon Association last week voiced support for federal legislation that would require the labeling of farmed salmon products. The bill also would require that the country of origin be on labels for all retail fisheries products.
The measures are contained in the Farm Bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate. Currently, most salmon is sold without any differentiation being made between farmed and wild.
"Consumers have a right to see this information at the retail counter because it affects their health," said USA president and fisherman Bruce Schactler of Kodiak.
USA said it supports the proposed requirements because of what it says are significant differences between Alaska wild salmon and farmed salmon. Unlike farmed salmon, Alaska salmon are not fed color additives, or treated with antibiotics, pesticides or fungicides, the association said.
Farmed salmon are kept in net pens throughout their lives.
The association said consumers have a right to know what they are buying.
Schactler cited studies showing that farmed salmon have increasingly high levels of cholesterol, depending on ingredients in their feed pellets. The quality and composition of the feed also affects the amount of health-enhancing Omega-3 essential fatty acid levels in salmon flesh.
Schactler further pointed to a recently published study in the scientific journal Chemosphere showing that the manufactured feed pellets and flesh of farmed salmon contain unsafe levels of PCBs and organochlorine pesticides.
The British Columbia Salmon Farmers' Association said that the use of antibiotics is declining and that "salmon are subject to the most stringent antibiotic use regulations of any livestock in Canada."
Schactler scoffed at retailer claims that it is inconvenient and too expensive to label fish. "If they can stick on the price, they can stick on what it is and where it came from," he said.
"Labeling is a marketing issue," said Ann McMullen, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers' Association. "Our farmed salmon is labeled in the stores. If governments are directing or dictating marketing and business (procedures), that is very difficult for me to comment on an issue like that.
"There are Alaskan salmon that are ranched in net pens," McMullen added in a telephone interview, referring to hatcheries. "I wonder at which day in the life cycle a fish is considered 'ranched' as opposed to 'farmed.' That would be my question."
The BC Salmon Farmers' Association has 12 producer members plus support and supply companies. For the year 2000 (the latest year available), the 12 producers grew 43,440 tons (dressed weight) of salmon.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com.