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YAKIMA, Wash. - A law firm is suing the country's three largest grocery chains, contending they should tell shoppers that the farm-raised salmon they sell has been dyed pink.
The three lawsuits, proposed as class actions, were filed Wednesday against the Kroger Co., Safeway Inc. and Albertsons Inc., said lawyer Paul Kampmeier of Smith & Lowney of Seattle.
"Pink sells salmon," he said. "To artificially color salmon without giving that information to consumers, we believe that's unfair and deceptive, and it's also against federal law."
The flesh of farmed salmon is naturally grayish. Wild salmon's brightly colored flesh is the result of the fish eating krill or other small crustaceans, says the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, a trade group.
Pigments added to farmed fish food are synthetic versions of naturally occurring ones in the diet of wild fish - "not unlike taking a vitamin C tablet instead of eating an orange," the trade group said. Pigments are added at levels that meet government standards, the association said.
Representatives of Cincinnati-based Kroger, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons and Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway said they had not seen the lawsuits and could not comment on specifics, but added that the salmon they sell are safe and comply with all federal rules.
"We want to assure our customers that we buy our salmon from well-regarded, reputable suppliers who are known for their high quality standards and who guarantee that they comply with all federal, state and local laws," Safeway spokeswoman Cherie Myers said.
The lawsuits, filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle on behalf of supermarket shoppers, seek unspecified damages and a court order requiring the chains to inform shoppers that the salmon are artificially colored.
Salmon farms allow consumers to get the fish fresh year-round at inexpensive prices, but they have come under attack in recent years by some environmentalists, commercial fisherman and biologists.
The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform in British Columbia last year organized a boycott of farmed salmon, arguing that the fish-farming practices were environmentally unsound, that the farmed Atlantic salmon compete unfairly with wild fish and that the end product was neither as tasty nor as healthy as free-swimming salmon.
Salmon farmers say they work to minimize the environmental impact of their industry and note that U.S. government data shows their fish have higher levels of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than wild Pacific salmon.
On the Net:
Smith & Lowney: www.smithandlowney.com/salmon/
Salmon Farmers Assn: www.salmonfarmers.org