Anti-toxics Law Cited in Legal Action Against Salmon Farms
Jane Kay, SF Chronicle
Two environmental groups have gone to court against 50 salmon farms, grocery chains and fish processors worldwide under
California's tough anti-toxics,
claiming that the businesses are failing to warn consumers of dangerous PCBs in
The Center for Environmental Health in Oakland
and the Environmental Working Group in San
Francisco brought the action in San Francisco Superior Court last week against companies in San Francisco, San Jose and San Bruno as well as in Norway, Scotland,
Canada and England, among
Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986,
requires businesses to warn the public if their products contain chemicals that
appear on a state-adopted list of carcinogens and reproductive toxicants.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, can cause cancer and reproductive harm
and damage the nervous system, according to state scientists.
The law requires that before suing, private groups must
first file a notice-of-intent-to-sue, which gives the California attorney general and other public
prosecutors 60 days in which to take over the suit, join with
the groups or decline to participate. The attorney general's office said it is
reviewing the action.
Representatives of the environmental groups said they don't want to
discourage people from consuming fish, which has been shown to guard against heart disease and other medical problems. Instead, they said they are trying to
force the farmed salmon producers to remove the harmful
contaminants that detract from the total health benefits.
"The corporations that are running the fish farms have
the responsibility to make sure that the food they sell is safe and not
contaminated with toxic chemicals,'' said Michael Green, executive director of
the Center for Environmental Health.
Some farmed salmon companies — Black Pearl and Clare
Island Sea Farm – – are producing salmon that have very low
PCB levels similar to those of wild salmon, Green said. These
producers use herring and sardine fish meal, canola oil, soya and other
A major study of 700 farmed and wild salmon, published two
weeks ago in the journal Science, found that levels of PCBs in farmed salmon were seven times higher than those found in wild salmon. The highly concentrated feed given to the salmon raised in net pens contains PCBs, which accumulate in
fat, the study said.
Last week, representatives of the farmed salmon industry
assured the public that their fish fall far below a PCB tolerance level set by
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Alex Trent, a spokesman for Salmon of the Americas,
an industry group, said the study's authors were scaring the public from eating salmon.
After looking at the Science study, FDA officials told The Chronicle that
they didn't find any public health concerns regarding farmed salmon.
Terry Troxell, head of the FDA's office of plants, dairy foods and
beverages, said, "Our advice to consumers is not to alter consumption of
farmed or wild salmon or other fish. Salmon is an excellent source of high- quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and
there is evidence that fish consumption is protective against cardiovascular disease.''
The Environmental Protection Agency advises the states on setting fish
consumption guidelines for sport and subsistence anglers, but doesn't regulate
PCB levels in fish sold in stores.
D.C., Jane Houlihan, vice
president for research at the Environmental Working Group, said her
organization was using the best means available to get stricter guidelines for
"It was clear to us, even in the
face of overwhelming evidence, that FDA officials don't plan to fix this
problem at the federal level,'' Houlihan said. "So we looked for other
tools we had at our disposal to protect public health. Prop. 65 seemed like a
great tool to use."