Last week, I wrote about the fact that I’m uncomfortable with the idea of eating diseased fish, even if there’s no evidence of the disease being transferable to humans.
One of the things I said was that I’d like the choice to avoid eating any of the 240,000 Cooke Aquaculture salmon that were allowed to grow out for several months in a Nova Scotia ocean pen after testing positive for infectious salmon anemia (ISA). Turns out, if I continue to eat salmon, it may be hard to make that choice.
At least one grocery chain, Sobeys, has told the media it won’t carry the fish.
But it’s not clear how they will avoid it, after what a Loblaws official told The Toronto Star about its dealings with Cooke.
“Cooke has been clear in their communication to all of their partners that all retailers who source from them receive CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) approved salmon and that Cooke does not segregate fish as ISA or non-ISA for any of their partners,” Loblaw spokeswoman Julija Hunter told The Star.
If Cooke is not segregating the fish, then that presumably shuts
off the United States as a market for all of the company’s salmon — because the U.S. won’t allow the import of ISA-exposed fish, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Authority spokesman, also quoted by The Star. And salmon exports to the U.S. were worth $200 million to producers in the Atlantic provinces last year.
It’s not just the United States that might not be interested.
Infectious salmon anemia is a listed aquatic animal disease in the World Organization for Animal Health’s Aquatic Code, with strict reporting requirements.
Here’s how the organization spells out the code: “The Aquatic Animal Health Code (the Aquatic Code) sets out standards for the improvement of aquatic animal health and welfare and veterinary public health worldwide, including through standards for safe international trade in aquatic animals (amphibians, crustaceans, fish and molluscs) and their products. The health measures in the Aquatic Code should be used by the veterinary authorities of importing and exporting countries to provide for early detection, reporting and control of agents pathogenic to aquatic animals and, in the case of zoonotic diseases, for humans, and to prevent their transfer via international trade in aquatic animals and aquatic animal products, while avoiding unjustified sanitary barriers to trade.”
For its part, Cooke has been circumspect. “When farms are confirmed positive with ISA, whether in Canada, or anywhere else, necessary measures are taken to minimize the spread of the virus to protect fish health,” Cooke spokesman Chuck Brown wrote in an email to The Toronto Star.
“When the spread of the disease is neutralized, the remaining fish are frequently grown out to market size and harvested.”
Neutralized? Interesting. And frequently grown out? I wasn’t aware of that. It certainly hasn’t been the case in Canada, where salmon infected with ISA are regularly destroyed.
I’d like to be aware of any instance where the infected fish is going to market, so I can make choices as a consumer. And in case the industry thinks I’m unimportant in the whole equation, I looked at buying salmon last week — I’m a regular buyer — and then walked on by and bought something else. That’s one tray of fish not sold. Chances are, there are more.
As I said last week, this is a bad way to market fish. Why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has decided to allow the fish to be grown out in open-water cages — increasing the chances of infecting wild fish — is beyond me.
Why Cooke would want to sell the fish, combining it in its sales with other salmon, is even further beyond me.
If the short-term gain of selling the fish is more important that the long-term gain of protecting a whole industry, there are some very big questions to be asked.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.