YAKIMA, Wash. - Three major grocery chains will use labels or signs to inform shoppers that color additives are fed to farm-raised salmon to make the flesh pink.
"We are going to be labeling packaged products with a 'color-added' label," Brian Dowling, a spokesman for Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, said last week. "At fish counters, we are putting up a laminated sign indicating the same."
Karianne Cole, a spokeswoman for Albertsons in Boise, Idaho, said signs would be displayed in stores' fish cases, saying "color added."
Kroger Co. of Cincinnati, owner of Fred Meyer and QFC stores in the Pacific Northwest, said earlier its farm-raised salmon and trout also would be labeled "color added."
Each company is a defendant in separate proposed class-action lawsuits filed last week in King County Superior Court in Seattle by the law firm Smith & Lowney. They are accused of misleading consumers about the origin of salmon by failing to declare the artificial color.
The grocery chains' announcements do not make the lawsuits moot, said Paul Kampmeier, a lawyer with Smith & Lowney.
"There are still a whole bunch of consumers out there who were duped into purchasing this stuff before the grocery stores made these policy changes," he said.
The flesh of farmed salmon is naturally gray. The brightly colored flesh of wild salmon is the result of eating krill or other small crustaceans that contain astaxanthin or canthaxanthin, according to the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, a trade group.
The carotenoid pigments added to farmed fish food are synthetic versions of naturally occurring ones in the diet of wild fish, much like 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.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required "artificially colored" or "color added" labeling on products containing such additives since 1995, although the pigments are deemed safe for consumption.
"While the supplements do not affect the taste or nutritional value of the fish, we are modifying the product labels to share this information with our customers," said Keith Neer, a Kroger executive.
Salmon farms provide fresh fish year-round at inexpensive prices, but they have come under attack under attack in recent years by some environmentalists, commercial fishermen 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 product was neither as tasty nor as healthy as wild salmon.
Salmon farmers say they work to minimize the environmental impact of their industry and note that U.S. government data show their fish have higher levels of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than wild Pacific salmon.