Shareholders and “Whistleblower” Raise Concerns about Costco’s Farmed-Raised Salmon

Farmed salmon was the subject of heated debate today at retail giant Costco’s annual general meeting
January 26, 2006

Farmed salmon was the subject of heated debate today at retail giant Costco’s annual general meeting as shareholders, scientists and a Norwegian “whistleblower” expressed environmental and public health concerns about one of the company’s most popular products.

Attending the meeting were Pure Salmon Campaign representatives and a Norwegian food safety scientist who has accused the Norwegian Food Safety Authority for not taking adequate precautions to protect human health during two recent contamination incidents with salmon feed.


Most of the farmed salmon Costco sells comes from Norwegian-based companies, which dominate the industry.


Starting in January 2005, cadmium was found in Norwegian farmed salmon and land animal feed according to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. Some of the feed was used on Norwegian fish farms and some was exported to Scotland, Faroe Islands and Canada. In November of last year,

Russian authorities banned the import of Norwegian farmed salmon after finding high levels of cadmium and lead.


Norway took meat off the market because it was fed the contaminated feed, yet no precautionary or preventive measures were taken with regards to the salmon,” said Dr. Claudette Bethune,

Senior Scientist at Norway’s National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research. “Norway has yet to acknowledge the significant feed incident early last year as a possible explanation for the high levels of cadmium found by the Russians.”


In addition to the cadmium and lead contamination, Norwegian authorities disclosed that they had found the illegal use of nitrites in smoked salmon. In the E.U., nitrites are banned for use in food products as it reacts with foodstuffs and transforms into carcinogenic nitrosamines. Nitrites are used to stabilize food color and influence taste.


The Pure Salmon Campaign released a statement signed by more than thirty U.S., European, Canadian, and other international scientists communicating their concerns about the salmon aquaculture industry and requested a meeting with Costco officials to discuss these concerns.


“If done right, salmon farming could be an incredibly positive industry,” said John Volpe,

Assistant Professor of Marine Systems Restoration and Conservation in the School of Environmental Studies; University of Victoria, British Columbia.


 “As scientists, we stand ready to help the aquaculture industry adopt more sustainable fish farming techniques to fulfill the promise of relieving rather than deepening the debilitating human impacts on the marine ecosystem.”


The Pure Salmon Campaign says it contacted Costco, one of the largest purveyors of farmed salmon in the United States, several times in advance of this meeting regarding environmental and public health concerns associated with farmed salmon. Pure Salmon requested that Costco use its considerable purchasing power to help transform the industry. But so far, Costco executives have refused to even meet with representatives of the campaign to discuss these issues.


“Farmed salmon as it’s currently produced—with contaminants like PCB’s, and illegal substances like nitrites—is simply not a product that Costco should be proud to have on it’s shelves,” said

Andrea Kavanagh, Director of the Pure Salmon Campaign. “It is time company officials work with us to address the very real problems associated with this product.”


Read the Scientists' Letter


[As reported in our Newsletter of January 19, 2006, the Pure Salmon Campaign, announced last month that it would file a truth-in-advertising complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding an advertising campaign by Salmon of the Americas. The ad claimed health benefits of farmed salmon and promoted the consumption of the fish to pregnant women and mothers. The Campaign is currently asking for signatures to a petition against the advertisement.


"Telling pregnant women to eat farmed salmon because it's good for their health is like telling teenagers to start smoking because it's good for their lungs," said Andrea Kavanagh, Campaign Director. "The ads by Salmon of the Americas go beyond public relations all the way to dangerous misinformation. Make no mistake: unborn children will be exposed to toxic chemicals because of these ads."


The campaign is a coalition of activisit organizations, with names familiar to aquaculturists, such as The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, David Suzuki Foundation and Salmon Farm Protest Group. Its website offers information drawn from predictable sources.  It claims on its website that its aim is "to raise the standard of farmed salmon". – Editor]