The Pew Environment Group recently acquired documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealing that three Chilean salmon farming companies, including the two largest producers of farmed salmon, used a number of drugs not approved by the U.S. government. These chemicals include the antibiotics flumequine and oxolinic acid and the pesticide emamectin benzoate. The documents further show that the farmed salmon containing residues of unapproved chemicals were destined for the U.S. market.
In these reports, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the FDA declared that “if the drug is not listed in the approved drugs list… they [Chilean companies] are not allowed to use the drug to treat salmon destined to be distributed in the U.S., not even if they meet withdrawal periods and no tissue residue can be detected.”
Chile is the primary source of farmed salmon consumed in the United States and Marine Harvest and AquaChile are the two largest farmed salmon producers.
The pesticide and antibiotic residues found are of concern due to their potential effects on human health and the environment. The pesticide emamectin benzoate, for example, is “very toxic to aquatic organisms” and “may cause long-term adverse effects in the environment,” according to the manufacturer's safety data. The non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in fish destined for food production also raises concerns about possible antibiotic resistant bacterial infections in humans.
“We applaud the FDA for telling these companies that they can no longer use these chemicals in fish that are to be exported to the U.S.,” said Andrea Kavanagh, manager of the Salmon Aquaculture Reform Campaign at the Pew Environment Group. “We now hope that the FDA will enforce this directive and protect American consumers and the environment.”
In 2007, the FDA imposed strict import limitations when it found banned chemicals in aquaculture products from China.
“Standards and enforcement should be the same for Chile as they are for China,” said Kavanagh. “If the Chilean companies do not comply with instructions to stop using these chemicals then the FDA should consider taking similar action as it did with China.”
In 2007, the United States imported 114,320 net tons of farmed salmon from Chile, but the FDA tested only 40 samples.
“To better protect consumers, the FDA needs to sample more imported farmed fish while also testing for a wider range of chemicals and antibiotics,” said Kavanagh.
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Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the Salmon Aquaculture Reform campaign.