A Chilean court has ordered the government’s Sernapesca fisheries to disclose antibiotic use by salmon producers, after the Oceana environmental group filed a claim demanding transparency after record levels of antibiotics were being used to treat a virulent and dangerous bacteria present in Chilean salmon.
Beginning in 2014, thirty-seven Chilean salmon producers, and subsequently Sernapesca and Chile’s transparency council, refused to disclose antibiotic use. They cited commercial risk for the fisheries as a reason for this refusal.
Oceana's work in forcing transparency from these Chilean salmon producers is essential for U.S. consumers to remain informed about their food, as approximately 100,000 tons of Chilean salmon are imported into the U.S. annually, amounting to about one-third of all imported farmed salmon.
"We expect this unequivocal ruling to set a precedent, that salmon farms comply with it, and that once and for all the use of antibiotics in Chilean salmon farming can be made transparent," said Liesbeth van der Meer, interim executive director of Oceana's Chile office.
The presence of the bacteria has driven away some U.S. retailers, according to Reuters, and has caused economic losses of more than $100 million in recent years.
The bacteria is known as Salmon Rickettsial Syndrome or Piscirickettsiosis, and it is considered to be the most important disease problem in the Chilean salmon farming industry. The lack of an effective vaccine to treat the problem has driven Chile to increase antibiotic use, with 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics used for 895,000 tons of Chilean salmon produced in 2014. A report published by Oceana in 2014 found that the Chilean salmon farming industry used the most antibiotics out of any salmon farming industry in the world.
“If companies are not able to produce clean, then its activity cannot be tolerated, especially in an ecosystem like Patagonia that can be the basis of other sustainable economic activities,” Oceana in Chile executive director Alex Muñoz said in a press release.
Chile is the second-largest producer of salmon worldwide, after Norway. Producers currently pay about $1 for every pound of salmon produced due to these antibiotics, making Chilean salmon uncompetitive in recent years as compared to Norwegian salmon.
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Salmon image via Shutterstock