Tag Archives: agriculture

Critics still talking crap about farmed salmon poop

trashtalkycows

The entire BC farmed salmon industry produces about as much poop every year as 409 dairy cows.

That’s it. That’s barely the equivalent of two average-sized BC dairy farms.

This is important because one of the most common criticisms leveled at salmon farms is that they are using the ocean as an “open sewer.” As usual, the risks are vastly blown out of proportion.

Our favourite activist Alexandra Morton likes to say that salmon farmers are one of the only farmers that “don’t have to shovel their manure” and that we should all be very concerned and scared of farmed salmon poop because there’s so much of it and it’s full of “chemicals.”

We hear or read this one at least a few times each week. And it’s true. It’s also true that, as usual, Morton is telling half-truths distorted by her obsession with the scatology of salmon.

So how bad is it really? Well, for one thing, fish poop is a lot more benign than human poop because they eat a way healthier diet than most of us. And for another thing, recent research shows the environmental impacts are hardly noticeable.

 

Old data, old arguments

Before we get to the new data, we have to consider the old, and it’s really old. The tidbits of info you’ve probably heard are almost all certainly based on information published back when the Vancouver Canucks still played in Pacific Coliseum.

Some environmental activists still claim (without providing a source) that a farm of “200,000 fish can produce as much fecal matter per year as a city of 62,000 people.”

Others, quoting even more ancient sources from the 1980s and 1990s, claim that the waste from a farm is equivalent to a city the size of Victoria, BC.

They’re all wrong. Time to catch up to the latest science.

The Hardangerfjord in Norway produces as much farmed salmon as all of BC. Plus it makes a great desktop wallpaper.
The Hardangerfjord in Norway produces as much farmed salmon as all of BC. Plus it makes a great desktop wallpaper.

Studying the Hardangerfjord

The Hardangerfjord is the second-largest fjord in Norway and possibly the most beautiful. It’s also home to enough salmon farms to produce 70,000 metric tonnes of fish each year. That’s nearly equivalent to the total capacity of all salmon farms in BC.

According to research published just two years ago, all the salmon farms in the Hardangerfjord produce 7,000 tonnes of particulate organic waste (as well as organic phosphorus and nitrogen, included in the 7,000 tonne total); 127 tonnes of dissolved inorganic phosphorus and 770 tonnes of dissolved inorganic nitrogen.

So all the farmed salmon in the Hardangerfjord produce 7,897 tonnes of waste. Considering that the BC industry is very similar to the farms in Hardangerfjord, with very similar fish, feeding practices and almost identical feed, it’s pretty safe to assume that the BC industry produces about the same amount of waste per year as Hardangerfjord.

Fish poop vs human poop vs cow poop

The average human makes about 128 grams of poop each day (more after Taco Tuesdays). That’s 46.72 kilograms per year.

The average dairy cow produces 19.6 tonnes of poop (and urine) per year.

That means all the salmon farms in BC, all around Vancouver Island, produce as much poop as 169,028 people each year, and as much poop as 409 dairy cows. 

We can’t think of another farming industry that produces so much healthy protein with such little waste.

So next time someone tells you that one salmon farm produces as much poop as a city, you can tell them that’s just a load of crap.

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One key to preserving our planet will be eating more farmed seafood, less pork and beef

US seafood consumption

“If 3 billion people move up into the middle class between now and 2050 and they are eating primarily beef and pork, the planet is going to be in a lot of trouble. The growing middle class should be eating seafood, rather than terrestrial animals. Aquaculture provides a clear way to scale and meet these growing demands.”

That’s one of the many excellent points in favour of aquaculture in a white paper prepared for the upcoming SeaWeb Seafood Summit in New Orleans next month.

The paper, titled “Aquaculture’s Prominent Role in Feeding a Growing Global Population,” was written by two heavy-hitters involved in aquaculture and seafood research: Dr. Michael Tlusty, director of Ocean Sustainability Science at the New England Aquarium, and Neil Sims, co-founder of Kampachi Farms LLC.

Reputation

The paper points out that aquaculture has suffered a bad rap in the past but people need to take another look.

“Aquaculture today is far different than it was 30 years ago because there is better rule setting and environmental monitoring,” the paper states.

Farms depend on clean environment

And the paper reminds us all that many fish farmers depend on a healthy environment — it’s in their best interests to keep the ocean environment clean, despite the claims of anti-aquaculture activists that net pens pollute and promote disease.

“In many cases, aquaculture involves farming species that haven’t been domesticated. They are inextricably linked to their environment, which is why we must pay such close attention to that environment. Because when we start tipping that balance towards too much production, the farms will lose money because they will lose animals. This also leads to environmental impact.”

Read the whole paper by registering at Seafood Source.

Alternatively, download it here.

More complaining about salmon aquaculture compensation is unmerited

Yet again Blacklocks Reporter resurrected their story about compensation paid out to salmon farmers in Canada last week.

But there isn’t anything new here. They’ve reported this story several times already, but it must have been a slow news day.

Predictably, it again raised the ire of the anti-salmon farming crowd on social media, giving them something to Tweet about on a slow news Monday.

Yes, it’s true salmon farmers in Canada received around $93 million over three years in compensation for being ordered to destroy salmon infected by, or in close proximity to fish infected by, ISA virus and IHN virus.

The market value of those fish, however, would have been at least triple that amount. Nobody made money off compensation; at best, it meant people didn’t have to be laid off because of a massive gap in production. After all, farmed salmon grow for up to two years in the ocean. A chicken takes only eight weeks to grow to harvest, so it’s not nearly as big of a hit if a chicken farmer has to cull a herd.

All farmers get compensation

Compensating farmers for having to destroy their stock is nothing new.

2014-09-30 10_41_06-Livestock Diseases Prevention, Control and Compensation Schemes_ Prevention ...

In 2004, BC chicken farmers received $71 million in compensation for destroying nearly 14 million birds.

From 2002-2010, cattle, sheep and chicken farmers received $115 million in compensation for disease outbreaks, costs covered by the Canadian taxpayer.

Range cattle at risk from BSE? Why not just put them all in bags, then, how dare you expect taxpayers to bail you out.
Range cattle at risk from airborne diseases? Why not just put them all in bags and helmets, then, how dare you expect taxpayers to bail you out.

Yet there’s no moral outrage over that. No calls for chicken farmers to hermetically seal their barns to prevent airborne diseases from entering. No calls for sheep farmers to create massive domes over their pastures with airlocks to keep airborne diseases out. No calls for cattle ranchers to equip each cow with hazmat suits to keep viruses out.

Yet when it involves salmon farms, people think it makes perfect sense to conclude that the solution MUST be moving farms out of the ocean.

It isn’t.

The ocean is the best environment to farm fish. And although farmed fish are more susceptible to viruses because they live in closer proximity to each other than wild fish, they still are generally very healthy. More than 90% of the fish entered into the ocean live up to two years to harvest, and that’s with a minimal use of antibiotics, a pittance to what chicken farmers use to keep their herds alive for just eight weeks.

Missing the point of compensation

Farming is hard work. Farmers do not want the hassle — and costs — that come along with a disease outbreak.

Many farmers are tempted to follow the terrible advice of Canada’s biggest-ever boob of a premier Ralph Klein, who said during the mad cow disease crisis in Alberta that any “self-respecting rancher would have shot, shovelled and shut up.”

Can you imagine what would happen if salmon farmers, faced with a reportable disease diagnosis, just sat on the fish, quickly harvesting them in the hopes that the disease wouldn’t spread too fast? The outrage there would be!

Oh wait, that’s EXACTLY what happened more than a decade ago, before salmon farmers were eligible for compensation, when IHN virus spread all around the BC coast because farmers didn’t immediately cull their fish.

Dozens of companies went out of business. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs.

And although no one’s quantified what potential risk the outbreaks posed to passing wild fish (which carry IHN naturally, that’s where it comes from) it’s certainly never been higher than it was in those three years.

Compensation is intended to encourage farmers of all kinds to act quickly and co-operate with authorities.

“It reduces the time lag between an outbreak and containment actions, and hence diminishes the overall cost of control. “

Disease and disease control is just a part of farming. It’s the price farmers of all animals — and even vegetables — have to pay for grouping creatures and plants close together.

Nature has always been a battlefield of creatures and viruses trying to find their niche. Within the last 10,000 years we have radically altered that balance by developing agriculture.

It’s the price we pay for civilization.

The key is that we do it properly, with as few environmental impacts as possible. Salmon farming has made great strides since it began just 40 years ago towards being one of the most sustainable forms of livestock production on the planet.

Antibiotics in aquaculture: getting the facts straight

Over Christmas, a strange science article was published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The lead author, an economics professor from the University of Calgary, proposes a user fee for antibiotics in agriculture and aquaculture.

An economically rational solution is to impose a user fee on the nonhuman use of antibiotics. Every use of antibiotics increases selective pressure, thus undermining the value for other users. In effect, each antibiotic can have only a limited amount of use, so it is appropriate to charge a fee, just as logging companies pay “stumpage” fees and oil companies pay royalties.

It’s an interesting idea which got a lot of attention from the media in the post-Christmas doldrums, when media will traditionally desperately publish anything even remotely controversial to keep eyeballs on pages and screens (for the ads, of course!) until after New Year’s Day. However, the facts the author uses to back his premise are skewed.

A veterinarian working in salmon farming in BC took a look at the article and had numerous criticisms. Here’s what they pointed out.

No mention of pets

The article says that 80% of all antibiotics used in the USA are consumed by agriculture and aquaculture. But the graph in the article shows the bigger picture:

2014-02-27 09_40_41-Preserving Antibiotics, Rationally — NEJMIn the entire USA, aquaculture uses only 150,000 kg of antibiotics: the same amount as pets. But oddly, there is no mention of pets at all in the article. Why not? The author’s greatest concern is that “this profligate distribution of antibiotics around the world is contributing to the development and spread of resistant organisms” which may evolve and threaten human health. But he makes no mention of pets, which live with us, sleep with us, eat with us and share our space, every day.

The usage of antibiotics in pets should be of far greater concern than aquaculture. How many people come in contact with fish farms compared to pets? Yet this is not mentioned at all.

Aquaculture in context

The article specifically targets salmon farms (“Antibiotics are…added to food pellets and dropped to salmon in cages in the seas”), but farmed salmon production in the USA is a fraction of the whole, at about only 18,000 metric tonnes annually.

Catfish farmers in the USA produce nearly 272,000 metric tonnes of fish per year in freshwater ponds.

Aquaculture in the USA is dominated by catfish. On average, US catfish farmers produce 272,000 tonnes of fish per year. Farmed rainbow trout is the second largest aquaculture industry in the USA. Farmed salmon in the USA The total annual American aquaculture production is about 500,000 tonnes.

Aquaculture in the USA is using only about 300 grams of antibiotics per tonne of seafood produced.

Salmon farms in both the USA and Canada use even less than that average, ranging from 50 grams per tonne to as little as 5 grams per tonne of fish produced. 

That’s less than what people use. Going by this article’s numbers, the USA uses 11 grams of antibiotics per person, per year.

Other farmed animals use much more. The USA produces roughly 152,755,000 metric tonnes of livestock, poultry, dairy products and eggs each year. They all use antibiotics; however, this article only refers to livestock, which account for 33,000,000 tonnes per year.

Going by the article’s numbers, then, US livestock are using 410 grams of antibiotics per tonne produced.

Big assumptions miss the mark

The author shows a remarkable ignorance of agriculture and aquaculture in his list of reasons why he thinks a user fee for antibiotics would be a great idea.

He suggests that monitoring the actual usage of antibiotics would be challenging for farmers. Well guess what: BC salmon farmers already do this.

He also suggests that “veterinary oversight” would be a problem for “remote farms.” BC salmon farmers do this too. Regularly. Every treatment must be approved by a vet, who writes a prescription for medication.

According to the author, antibiotics are overused because they are cheap, $25 per kg by his reckoning. Not so. Antibiotics for aquaculture are more like $350 per kg. We like to use them as little as possible.

And finally, he suggests that a user fee on antibiotics would encourage farmers to look for antibiotic substitutes. Waaaay ahead of you there, pal. We’ve been using vaccines for years, along with good farming practices, good genetic stocks and top-quality feeds.

The goal is to keep our fish healthy throughout their lives. Unlike chickens, which only take about two months to grow to harvest, salmon take three years to reach harvest. While some chicken farmers may pump their animals full of medicine throughout their short lives as a precaution, this would never work on salmon farms. Using antibiotics constantly over three years would be expensive, would lead to resistance and would eventually become ineffective.

As much as possible, we use drug-free methods to keep our animals healthy. It’s economically viable, and the responsible way to farm salmon.

For more information about antibiotics used in aquaculture. the BC Salmon Facts website has some good facts and a video. 

 

Salmon aquaculture in 2050: We can do better than today

Aquaculture in the ocean is going to be a big part of feeding people 37 years from now, and while it’s made a lot of positive improvements, there’s room to do better.

That’s the conclusion which came out of a 2011 workshop involving expert scientists in fisheries, aquaculture and microbiology. The scientists, from Canada, the USA, the Netherlands and the United Nations, published their conclusions in a paper this year titled “Responsible Aquaculture in 2050: Valuing Local Conditions and Human Innovations Will Be Key to Success.”

Its conclusions are clear.

As aquaculture production expands, we must avoid mistakes made during increasing intensification of agriculture. Understanding environmental impacts and measures to mitigate them is important for designing responsible aquaculture production systems.

There are four realistic goals that can make future aquaculture operations more sustainable and productive:

  1. improvement of management practices to create more efficient and diverse systems at every production level;
  2. emphasis on local decisionmaking, human capacity development, and collective action to generate productive aquaculture systems that fit into societal constraints and demands;
  3. development of risk management efforts for all systems that reduce disease problems, eliminate antibiotic and drug abuse, and prevent exotic organism introduction into local waters; and
  4. creation of systems to better identify more sustainably grown aquaculture products in the market and promote them to individual consumers.

By 2050, seafood will be predominantly sourced through aquaculture, including not only finfish and invertebrates but also seaweeds.

Aquaculture is here to stay, and we have the unique opportunity and foresight to get it as “right” as we possibly can.

And sorry, “just putting it on land” is probably not the best solution. The scientists warn that there are environmental consequences of “closed” land-based systems, such as increased energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

In their LCA [Life Cycle Analysis] of alternative aquaculture technologies, Ayer and Tyedmers (2009) warned that we could be shifting—not alleviating—environmental impacts by reducing local impacts but increasing material and energy demands. This shift may result in significantly increased contributions to several environmental impacts of global concern, including global warming, nonrenewable resource depletion, and acidification.

They also point out that there is limited land for expansion of agriculture in general, which would make it difficult to find suitable places for large-scale on-land fish farms. They make it clear that expanding aquaculture in coastal and inland waters is going to be a key part of the future.

IMTA system
Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture Systems could someday be the standard for salmon farming, reducing environmental impacts while also producing other seafood species.

And the scientists acknowledge that some of today’s fish farmers are already ahead of the game, working to improve their practices in significant ways.

Many of the environmental impacts of aquaculture are being effectively addressed by improvements in management. For example, the reliance on fish meal in feeds has been reduced to 15% for many carnivorous species by replacement with plant-based proteins or other feed sources (Naylor et al. 2009)—a change made in response to environmental and economic concerns.

This has been driven largely by salmon farmers worldwide, who have committed to continually reducing the amount of fishmeal and oil in feed over the past decade. And their reliance on wild fish for feed continues to drop.

Of course, there are many ways all fish farmers can improve, and the scientists in this paper offer hope that it is feasible and practical to have aquaculture worldwide by 2050 that is sustainable while playing a crucial role in feeding the world.

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.

E_Coli_chart

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.

Listeria hysteria, and once again Alexandra Morton doesn’t know what she is talking about

Her friend and fellow anti-salmon farming protester Don Staniford, who “will twist facts to conform to his own personal view,” suffers from “closed-mindedness and deep prejudices” making him “an unreliable reporter of facts,” according to a BC Supreme Court judge, posted this. Morton responded.

Alex_misunderstands_listeria

Oh dear.

See, the thing is, listeria is one of the most common bacteria on the planet. It’s in everything. Dirt. Water. Fruit. Vegetables. Meat. On your hands right now, probably.

It’s usually harmless.

But under the right conditions, it can grow and reproduce at levels that can cause harm to human beings.

Hypocritically, Staniford and Morton love to focus on reports of listeria in farmed salmon products, while ignoring the fact that many other kinds of food products have had to be recalled because of listeria outbreaks.

The worst foodborne illness outbreak in the USA was because of listeria. Sadly, 30 people died and made 146 people very sick.

Where’s the “Boycott Farmed Cantaloupes” campaign?

And it was because of cantaloupes.The FDA investigation found that the bacteria could have come from a dump truck used to take culled melons to a cattle farm, and that it may have grown because the cantaloupes were not precooled to remove field heat before being put into cold storage.

Listeria is everywhere, but it only becomes a problem in our modern food supply system because of human error or oversight. It does not, as Morton claims, fester in farmed salmon throughout their lives to be passed on to the public. This is nonsense with no basis in fact.

To prevent the growth of listeria and other bacteria, as soon as farmed salmon is harvested it is put on ice in a boat hold. This temperature is maintained all the way to the processing plant, where it taken out of the boat, again kept on ice, and taken into the plant which is kept at a constant cold temperature. The processed fish are packed in ice, and taken to market in refrigerator trucks. The temperature is kept consistently cold enough to prevent any bacteria growth from the time the fish are caught to the time they are delivered to customers.

And customers who take that salmon to make products such as smoked salmon or gravlax or other ready-to-eat products must follow strict guidelines to test for listeria and ensure levels are low and safe.

Anytime there’s news of a recall it’s because there was a breakdown in the system somewhere. Not, because as Ms. Morton suggests, because “the little guys get in and go wild” and “there are no natural methods for removing the sick and contagious out of the population.”

Just in case her argument actually makes sense to anybody, consider this.

Were cavemen healthier than people today? Back in the day when they were “wild” and roaming free and there were “natural methods for removing the sick and contagious out of the population?” Were they healthier then compared to today, where people are “domesticated” and living in cities?

Back then, humans were lucky to make it to 30 years old. Then we got smart and developed agriculture. Then we got smarter and started figuring out what all the diseases were that were killing us, and fought back with medicine. Today, thanks to a consistent, nutritious food supply, and modern medicine, the average lifespan in Canada is 77 for men and 83 for women.

We apply those same smarts to farming animals. No farmer wants his animals to get sick and die. It’s in the farmer’s best interests to keep his animals healthy, happy and alive.

Morton does not seem to understand this, just like she does not seem to understand listeria, either.