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Highly Toxic Chemical in Farmed Salmon Sold to USA
(Beyond Pesticides, December 14, 2004)
A new report released by the Raincoast Conservation Society shows that Canada’s Ministry of Health approves the widespread use of a highly toxic emergency drug called Slice to control sea lice in Canadian farmed salmon. Residues of the drug have shown up in farmed salmon going to market; Canada exports the vast majority of its farmed salmon, and the U.S. consumes 95% of those exports.

The active ingredient in Slice is emamectin benzoate - a neurotoxin listed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as highly toxic. Slice is used extensively in Canada, despite its designation as an emergency drug (a classification reserved for limited or experimental use). The US Food and Drug Administration does not test Canadian farmed salmon for Slice.

“Documents we obtained revealed over 170 million farmed salmon have been given Slice in the last five years - over 35 million in 2003 alone,” said Theresa Rothenbush, Aquaculture Specialist for the Raincoast Conservation Society which commissioned the report, Diminishing Returns: An Investigation Into the Five Multinational Corporations That Control British Columbia’s Salmon Farming Industry. “Our report chronicles the truth about Slice and tells an astonishing story of disease in the industry.”

The use of Slice in farmed salmon is a concern to scientists in the USA. “We should not have to consume these chemicals in our salmon,” said Dr. David O. Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University of Albany in New York and author of a prominent PCB study published in Science this year. “Emamectin is one of a class of drugs known to block a major inhibitory neural transmitter in the brain. Animal studies have demonstrated exposure to this chemical during development causes changes in behavior and growth as well as pathological changes in the brain.”

Documents show that in 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began finding residues of Slice in farmed salmon. At that time, the Agency had zero tolerance for Slice consumption. Rather than notify the public and issue a recall, Health Canada decided to change its policy and accept Slice residues in farmed salmon up to a maximum of 50 parts per billion. Only two parts per billion of emamectin benzoate are allowable under guidelines for meat set by the US EPA.

“Canada’s loopholes are putting US consumers at risk,” said Sophika Kostyniuk, San Francisco- based Markets Campaigner for the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR), a coalition of environmental groups fighting destructive fish farming practices. “This should be a wake up call not only to US and Canadian Health authorities, but to the thousands of people who have unknowingly consumed farmed salmon treated with this drug.”

Scientific studies suggest that Slice is a threat to lobster, shrimp, crab and other commercially important crustaceans. Widespread use of Slice indicates the extent of Canada’s sea lice problem. Sea lice from salmon farms were implicated in the crash of 3 million wild pink salmon in 2003.

Diminishing Returns also takes an in-depth look at disease outbreaks, financial woes, and the global track record of the largest multinationals controlling the salmon farming industry.

TAKE ACTION: Contact EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt and urge protection against salmon containing emamectin benzoate by requiring testing for the presence of this chemical in our salmon. Write to Canadian Ministry of Health to express your views on their approval of emamectin benzoate in farmed salmon through email, fax (613) 941-5366, or through the mail at Health Canada, A.L. 0900C2, Ottawa, Canada, K1A 0K9.