‘Organic’ farmed salmon misleads conscientious consumers
Galway Independent – Letter to Editor
We are repeatedly being told the economic salvation of Ireland’s remote coastal and island communities will be massive new ‘organic’ salmon farms.
Barely a day goes by without either BIM, Marine Minister Simon Coveney, or the Irish Farmers’ Association promoting this ‘organic’ label as a sustainable solution in a world suffering from collapsing fish stocks and increased demand for seafood.
But are the practises allowed what consumers have come to expect from an organic label?
Rather than saving wild fisheries, farmed salmon are further depleting them. Salmon are carnivores and in the wild their diet consists of smaller fish and crustaceans. Today, between 30 and 50 per cent of wild fisheries are going to feed farmed fish worldwide.
To combat this, the theory was organic salmon farmers would feed their fish on filleting waste from sea fisheries that have won sustainable status or products derived from other forms of organic aquaculture.
Unfortunately, this approach failed. There simply wasn’t enough supply to meet demand.
As a result, the rules have been changed to allow fish meal and oil from unsustainable sea fisheries and non-organic aquaculture operations to be used. This means ‘organic’ Irish salmon farming is supporting unsustainable sea fisheries and non-organic aquaculture practises. Further problems include ever-increasing chemical use and marine pollution.
Even the colour of ‘organic’ salmon is artificial. Wild salmon is pink, a result of the crustaceans in their diet, but farmed salmon, due to their artificial diet, is grey. Unsurprisingly, consumers do not want to eat grey salmon. For this reason, they’re fed the same dye as used in conventional salmon farms.
They also use chemical treatments, antibiotics, and sedatives to combat disease and parasites such as sea lice. Again, these are the same chemical treatments used in non-organic aquaculture. The chemicals designed to kill sea lice can also harm valuable crustaceans such as prawn, shrimp, crab, and lobster — no surprise given sea lice are also crustaceans. In recognition of the problems associated with excessive chemical use, EU organic regulations state only two sea lice treatments are allowed per year.
An exception is, however, allowed when compulsory eradication is required because the number of sea lice exceed the ‘trigger level’. Today, this exemption is increasingly exploited as Ireland’s ongoing sea lice infestations thrive in our warming ocean.
While salmon farms are required to keep data on such chemical use, this data is not gathered by any government authority. When requested, the Government has been unable to provide it, instead directing interested parties to the salmon farm operators who simply refuse to make this data public.
This begs the questions: How can organic salmon farms be allowed to use chemicals without any public record? And what have they got to hide? It’s not just chemicals.
Salmon farms, just like any other intensive form of livestock farming, produces waste (fish faeces and uneaten feed). While no land-based farm is allowed to discharge such waste directly into the environment, this is permitted in Irish organic salmon farming.
What does all this mean? Any consumer purchasing salmon labelled organic in the belief they are protecting the environment from pollution could not be more wrong.
The organic label also suggests improved fish welfare. Yet regulations state that every 10kg of organic salmon only needs a cubic metre of water. This equates to about a bathtub of water per adult salmon. To claim such a situation resembles their natural environment is absurd; in the wild a salmon would swim up to 14,000km. Indeed, the only resemblance between the open ocean and an organic salmon farm is that it is suspended in seawater.
Taking the latest research together, sea lice from salmon farms can cause anything from a 40 to 50 per cent reduction in wild salmon returning to our rivers. It is for this reason recommendations were made by a government report as early as 1994 that no salmon farm should be placed within 20km of a wild salmon river. Yet organic standards have no such requirement, and are often located only 1km or 2km off salmon river mouths.
Wild salmon face further problems because Irish salmon farms import smolt (young salmon) often from Norwegian stock that bears no relation to the local wild salmon. As farmed salmon often escape, they in turn breed with wild salmon, weakening them genetically. Wild salmon are now outnumbered by escaped farmed salmon in many of Norway’s rivers.
Wild salmon are not the only species at risk. Sea birds, seals, otters and small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) are attracted to salmon farms as a ready food source. They get tangled in nets and drown.
Consumers have come to respect the organic label. They are willing to pay more to source food that is free of artificial chemicals and will not damage the environment. The ‘organic’ farmed salmon label not only misleads the conscientious consumers who choose ‘organic’ salmon believing they are protecting the environment, it also brings all organic labelling into disrepute.
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