Monday, July 27, 2009

Alert: Chilean Farmed Salmon Tainted with Dangerous Antibiotic

Salmon that is farmed in Chile and widely sold in the U.S. is being fed hundreds of thousands of pounds of an antibiotic that is so dangerous that its use is prohibited in food producing animals--that includes fish--by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The antibiotic, chloramphenicol, is linked to a lethal human blood disorder and is a suspected cause of cancer. There is no known safe dose; It is only used to treat serious human infections.

The situation shows, once again, how our food inspection system is so inadequate. The FDA should be inspecting Chilean salmon and stopping shipments from entering the U.S. if they contain any trace of the antibiotic.

But according to Public Citizen the FDA inspects only 1 to 2% of all seafood entering the U.S.

What a pickle, to mix metaphors: I not only love the taste of salmon, but I know it's healthy for my heart. And farmed salmon is a whole lot cheaper than wild salmon.

But if you put this in context, and think about the fact that the federal government allows other kinds of antibiotics to be fed routinely to cattle whose flesh is supposedly safe, this chloramphenicol has to be so dangerous that we should do our best to avoid it.

Word about Chilean salmon came today in a New York Times article that reported that Chile used 718,000 pounds of antibiotics last year to keep farmed salmon from dying from infections; about one-third were from the most dangerous family of antibiotics, quinolones. Farmed ocean fish are vulnerable to infection because they are grown in pens that can be unsanitary and overcrowded.

By comparison, Norway used only 2,075 pounds last year for its farmed salmon. This info became public because the environmental group, Oceana, requested the information.

Chile is the biggest supplier of salmon to the U.S., and the fish are sold by giant retailers including Wal-Mart and Safeway who, according to the Times, have reduced their purchases from the company because of health concerns.

Indirectly, of course, that means they are still selling at least some Chilean salmon.

What's a health-conscious consumer to do?

This is truly a case of buyer beware. Supermarkets, as I've noted here before, are required to label their seafood as wild or farmed and with country of origin. Your local fish monger is not covered by the law, but be sure to ask if the information is not visible.

So, to the best of your ability, buy only wild Pacific salmon, and stay within your budget by eating less. Norwegian salmon farmers rely much less on antibiotics, so that is a healthier choice. Or, try farmed U.S. trout instead for a change, which is in the same family as salmon. Environmentalists say that fish like trout that are farmed inland, rather than in the ocean, are safe to eat.

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