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Row Rages over New York Times Article

US - A column in the New York Times has caused a stir among salmon farmers in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

The column, 'Sardines With Your Bagel?' maintained that collapsing fisheries make wild salmon an unethical meal; and pesticides, disease, parasites and world hunger mean farmed fish are no better.

Chilean fish farming operations came under fire in the article over the recent outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia.

"In Chile, overcrowding in these oceanic feedlots led to this year’s epidemic of infectious salmon anemia, a disease that has killed millions of fish and left the flesh of survivors riddled with lesions," the article said.

However, this week the Patagonia Times hit back.

"This latest jab at Chile’s troubled salmon sector comes in the wake of controversy over the Times’ March coverage of the ISA outbreak. The article cited high levels of antibiotic, pesticide, dye and hormone applications among environmental and health concerns over industry practices (PT, March 28)," the paper said.

"The ISA story prompted a letter to the editor from Chile's American Ambassador Mariano Fernández. His letter, published in the NYT about a week later, defended the industry, denying that it is unsafe.

"Next came an April report in the NYT that US. grocery giant Safeway would stop buying salmon from its Chilean supplier, Marine Harvest. The retailer denied the decision had any connection to the influential US paper’s ISA article.

"Finally, on May 13, the NYT published a curious 'editor's note' in regard to the ISA story. It revealed that the report had included a quote from a security guard who claimed to be a port director at the port of Castro. The guard had described bags of feed as containing antibiotics, pigments and hormones. The NYT said it would not have used the guard as a source had his true identity been known. The editor’s note also said the story should have included denials by Marine Harvest that the company uses hormones and that the dyes pose health risks to consumers (PT, May 13)," the Patagonian Times concluded.

However the article has also come under fire from the British Columbian Salmon Farmers Association.

In a letter to the New York Times, the executive director of the association Mary Ellen Walling said: "His inaccuracies about salmon farming are a disservice to readers who seek healthy, sustainable food choices.

"Most troubling is incomplete and incorrect information about emamectin benzoate which is used to control sea lice on farmed salmon. Farmed salmon are not fed pesticides. Emamectin benzoate is classified as a drug. The same active ingredient in emamectin benzoate is approved for use on agricultural crops in the United States.

"This medicine is prescribed as a seven day treatment under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. A tiny amount, 50 micrograms (or 0.00005 grams) of drug to each kilogram of fish, is provided on average for about ten days of the more than two years that the fish are grown. To ensure that emamectin benzoate is not present in harvested fish, a minimum 68-day withdrawal is required before harvest. To suggest that farmed salmon products may contain pesticide residues is wrong.

"It is true that the feed used in salmon farming contains both fishmeal and fish oil derived from capture fisheries, but the conversion ratio is much lower than the value Mr. Grescoe provides. Farmed Atlantic salmon gain about one pound for every 1.2 pounds of capture fisheries raw materials that are consumed. Stock selection and continually improving fish feed formulas mean that one-to-one conversion ratios will be attainable in the future.

"It's unfortunate that Mr. Grescoe did not take the time to learn more about salmon farming in British Columbia and around the world. He would have learned why farmed salmon is a nutritious and sustainable food choice."

Ellen Hardy

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