Lazy media ignores context in farmed salmon stories

It’s the media’s job to provide context, but when it comes to reporting on farmed salmon, they fail miserably.

The latest example comes from Eastern Canada. While Canadian media was busy vilifying farmed salmon for possibly containing viruses which affect nothing but farmed salmon, they ignored reports showing that terrestrially-farmed meats routinely contain bacteria ­– the kinds of bacteria which, if the meat is processed and handled incorrectly, can be harmful to human health.

According to the National Antimicrobial Retail Monitoring System report, nearly a decade of research done by the US FDA and the Centre for Veterinary Medicine, your chances are very good for purchasing chicken, turkey, pork or beef containing E. coli, salmonella, enterococcus or campylobacter. Or perhaps all of the above.

It’s pretty much a given that, unless you are a vegan, in the past decade you have eaten meat containing these bacteria.


Should you worry? Should you declare your home a meat-free zone and go vegan?

If you want, but as we’ve pointed out before, the worst case of food-related illness in North America was from cantaloupes, which tragically killed 30 people. And other vegetables have been at the centre of food-related illnesses and deaths too, notably spinach. Vegetables often contain the same bacteria as meat, but like meat, they are usually present in such low quantities that they pose no health risks.

So if you’re a vegan, chances are good you’ve eaten these bacteria too, with no ill effects.

This sort of context is important in any discussion about the food we eat, be it salmon, chicken or spinach. But in the rush to “get it first” and “get people talking” the context is unfortunately the first thing the media cuts out in their reporting.

And because there’s a lot of money tied up in “demarketing” farmed salmon to boost wild salmon, there’s a lot of baloney out there about the healthiness of farmed salmon. Context is sorely needed to balance the nonsense, but most media are too lazy to do even basic investigative work to balance the claims of anti-salmon farming loudmouths.

The science speaks for itself. We are not aware of contaminated farmed salmon causing any deaths (unlike contaminated cantaloupes and spinach). In fact, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization recently published a comprehensive report showing that the health benefits of consuming oily fish (including farmed salmon) greatly outweigh any risks.

And overall, meat, seafood and veggies are safe. We live in an age where our food supply is the safest it’s ever been. There is no need to be fearful in the grocery store.

So media, enough with the scaremongering farmed salmon stories already. It’s time to show some responsibility and investigative skills and put the context back in your reporting.

12 thoughts on “Lazy media ignores context in farmed salmon stories”

  1. Hi Steve:I don’t you think this is about something other than $$$$$$$$$$$$$? CFIA has found a way to screw the industry and the consumer as well? I am not anti salmon aquaculture/open net pens, It could be a BIG + for us if done right. I am against the Bull Sh?? coming from the both side of this argument. Where do I get a clean fish meal for my family when headed for the Super Store?

    1. Any fish (wild or farmed) you buy from a store is not pristine, free of any pathogen. Obviously, the fish you buy should not have parasites on it in clear view because that would not be great for the store, but viruses can still be there. Like I said before, adult wild Sockeye are naturaly carriers of IHNV. It is not going to hurt you but there is a possibly that it can be in the fish. You think Capt. Highliner fish is squeeky clean? Think again.

      Personally, Mike, I would be more concerned about eating too much processed beef and pork products, saturated fat, processed sugar and salt. Child obesity and Type 2 diabetes are much bigger concerns in this country. If you can help reduce the risk of any of your family members developing these then you will do much better.


    Published on Fri Feb 01 2013 “ Exerts from the article.”

    “Infected salmon declared fit for human consumption by Canadian Food Inspection Agency

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has approved a quarter million Nova Scotia salmon infected with the ISA virus for human consumption, but the U.S. won’t take the fish.

    “Cooke Aquaculture, the New Brunswick-based company that has been holding the infected salmon under quarantine since February, (reported 2012) says they’ve been managing infectious salmon anemia outbreaks since the 1990s.

    Last week the Canadian Food Inspection Agency declared fit for human consumption 240,000 Atlantic salmon with infectious salmon anemia — a disease it says poses no risk to human heath. The ruling is the first time the CFIA has opted not to destroy fish carrying the virus since it started regulating the fish farming industry in 2005.

    The government has paid out an estimated $100 million in compensation since the virus first surfaced in the Maritimes in 1996, according to a tally of government documents done by the Atlantic Salmon Federation. This last paragraph says it all. Now they have a way out and unfortunately, industry will take the hit! ”

    Saddest thing of all the effluent from this new process will end up in a small municipal sewerage treatment plant located in the heart of NB Aquaculture operations.

    All necessary precautions taken!

  3. Salmonfarmscience…..I think you meant to say, “far outweigh any risks”. It happens when you have to take the time to write something meaningful to farm critics.

    Mike, first thing you have to realize is that Salmonella is NOT a bacteria that is normally associated with fish coming from either a net pen in the ocean or off a gillnet boat. Fish that enter a processing facility (to be made into secondary products like smoked salmon) and get Salmonella more than likely get it from contamination within that facility – from other food items that are commonly associated with the bacteria. In this case, the problem is with the facility and the contamination there – not the fish and not net pen aquaculture.

    It is good to be concerned, but it is another to wildly speculate and infer some sort of factual basis from it. This is one of the big problems farm critics have with understanding fish pathogens.

    1. Hi Steve: glad to hear from you on food safety. On the CFIA site they say the lethal form of ISA infects wild salmon, herring, cod and brown trout. I assume this is verified testing to date. What do you think the new CFIA policy of leaving penned fish verified by them as lethal ISA positive in the water for 8 months until they reach market size? These other wild species are also being harvested, processed and consumed by humans as well as fish in the pens.

      1. What do I think? First, I do not believe there is a risk to public health. ISA is a fish disease – not a human disease. Until I hear evidence to the contrary I am not going to go into a big panic like some activists. One thing to keep in mind is that ISAV is not known to survive in temperature above 20 deg. C. I believe this is one of the reasons why samples to be tested for viruses need to be kept colder than cold (any virologists out there?). From what I have gathered it is not an simple thing (ethical) to set up an experiment to have people ingest ISA infected fish and check for any affects to human health.

        Somewhat related, wild adult Fraser Sockeye are known to carry IHNV, but not develop IHN. People have been ingesting Sockeye with IHNV for years. Yes, anglers and commercial fisherman have been catching Sockeye with IHNV and cooking them on their BBQs. Are people going to stop eating wild Sockeye Salmon now? I doubt it. Because the origin of viruses like ISAV has to come from the wild, people back east have been ingesting ISAV and possibly ISA infected wild fish for years. The only difference is that the media and fish farm activists have caught onto this and have heighten the “ick” factor. It is perception driven – a fish farm activist’s dream come true. Some people perceive now that they are in danger. Words like “Infectious” and “Anemia” obviously frighten the public, especially when they are not provided all the information by the media. Brenda MacDonald’s fault in this was not what she said, but what she didn’t say.

        Second, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the CFIA actions – not from a scientific point of view but from a PR point of view. This was prime for fish farm critics to jump all over and exploit. They have the social media campaigns down to a science. Fear is very easy to generate. Combine this with Harper’s omnibus legislation and the “ick” factor created by activists and you have a general public not very trusting of what government or industry. If the consumer is scared and not trusting the safety of these fish then it doesn’t matter how many experts come out from CFIA, Cooke or DFO to try to turn opinion around. People will naturally opt for a product that they “perceive” won’t harm them. It doesn’t matter if they are correct in their opinion or not. It will be an uphill battle for the industry to win over consumers.

      2. “I believe this is one of the reasons why samples to be tested for viruses need to be kept colder than cold (any virologists out there?)”

        Our virologist friends tell us that the cold temperature is not to kill the virus, but to preserve a high-quality sample. Viral DNA degrades rapidly so samples need to be kept fresh, and frozen in the lab.

  4. “We are not aware of contaminated farmed salmon causing any deaths (unlike contaminated cantaloupes and spinach). In fact, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization recently published a comprehensive report showing that the health benefits of consuming oily fish (including farmed salmon) greatly outweigh any risks.”

    I think one should take 2 seconds and Google “Salmonella, Netherlands, Salmon” before making such a bold statement. Over 10 million hits on that topic alone!

    These articles report a number of deaths from surface contamination of farmed salmon. The articles from out east are ISA viral contamination in the flesh itself. The ISA virus is continually mutating and no one can predict if it will jump species like bird, swine or mad cow has done. Think about this totally unpredictable scenario and a very common situation today: Someone who is on chemo therapy and has absolutely no immune system decides to have a farmed salmon dinner infected with ISA. Can CFIA confidently say there is no danger?

    1. Thanks Mike, we knew someone would jump to attack that statement and ignore the context, just like the topic of the article. And you are wrong, there were not “over 10 million hits” for those search terms, but 196,000.

      We see that in this incident three elderly people tragically died.

      Not to be callous, but cantaloupes have still killed more people than farmed salmon.

      As well, 30 people die each year from salmonella in chicken eggs.

      Where is your outrage over that, or do you just save it for farmed salmon?

      Again, the UN FAO and WHO recommend that the health benefits of eating oily fish, including farmed salmon, far outweigh any risks.

      Are the UN part of your government coverup conspiracy theories too, if their statements don’t agree with your opinions?

      Bacteria issues are usually unrelated to the product, but how it is handled. The issues are usually with the processing, not with the product itself. We continue to eat cantaloupes, eggs, chicken and farmed salmon because they are good, healthy food sources and we have confidence in our modern food supply system. Yes, human error happens and sometimes, tragically, people die. But we confidently say again, our food supply is safer than it’s ever been. The difference between now and 100 years ago is that we can google news stories and see what is happening around the world in food safety news, making problems seem bigger than they really are.

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