Friday, January 25, 2008

The mystery of Malachite green and other fish stories

Sampled farm fish bound for the USA turned up a positive result for a potentially carcinogenic chemical called malachite green, making for a potentially serious problem for the province’s aquaculture industry and one which puzzles the operators who insist that they don’t use the controversial chemicals in their processing of farmed salmon.

With the 80 per cent of BC Farmed Salmon bound for the USA, the possible financial impact is quite serious. And with that reality now a growing concern, the two Canadian firms that have been affected are anxious to come to some answers as to how the chemical appeared in samples taken by the United States Food and Drug Association in December.

Creative Salmon Co. and Marine Harvest Canada are two of the main players on the southern and central B. C. coast where farmed salmon is still an ongoing, if rather controversial industry, so any incident or surprising development always seems to shine a spot light on the industry.
So far the best that the two companies can come up with for an answer is that perhaps a change in testing policies at the FDA might be a cause of the sudden positive results, but until they learn more from the Americans they’re as much in the dark as anyone.

For it's part Marine Harvest Canada issued a press release outlining its understanding of the situation so far, and suggesting that any introduction of Malchite green into their salmon products must have taken place after it had left the Marine Harvest processing site, as well as advising that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has given them a clean bill of health as far as any trace of the questionable chemical is concerned.

It all makes for an interesting bit of drama for an industry that seems to be living on the edge of all sorts of drama owing to its controversial nature.

The Daily News examined the latest developments in a front page story in Monday’s paper.

By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Pages one and two

Canadian aquaculture companies are still baffled as to how their salmon ended up testing positive for the potentially carcinogenic chemical malachite green, but say new U.S. testing procedures may be the reason.

On Dec. 4, the United States Food and Drug Administration pulled over two different trucks, each containing salmon from different aquaculture companies. In both instances, the sampled fish tested positive for the presence of malachite green, and since then, both Creative Salmon Co. and Marine Harvest Canada have gone on record saying they absolutely do not use the chemical.

"Creative Salmon grow chinook salmon in Tofino that go through a different plant and use different truckers than us, and our fish came from Port McNeill through our plant in Port Hardy. The first place they came together was as the border," said Clair Bachman.

"For both of us, who are very sensitized to this product, having it show up in our products was very stunning. We've both been comparing notes and neither one of us can figure out where the positive results could have come from, and we're both trying to find out more from the FDA."

Bachman said that the FDA is a fairly quiet and closed group, so he is not surprised they have yet to communicate back with the companies as to whether any further action will be taken and whether or not they will get access to a portion of the samples that were taken in December.

He noted the FDA switched their testing methods last year, which may account for the irregularly high levels of malachite green they reported.

"If malachite green gets into fish, it's metabolized by them into another form, not in the initial malachite green form. But if you find it in the malachite green form, it's evidence of a new application of the fungicide," said Bachman. "In Canada, they test for both forms, and allow for a maximum of one part per billion in either form. Last summer, in the U.S., they changed their procedure, where they chemically revert the metabolized form back into malachite green form, and measure that total against the one part per billion standard."

"That new testing procedure could be one of the possible reasons for these new positive tests," said Bachman.

With 80 per cent of all Canada's farmed salmon, some 85,000 tonnes, being shipped to and sold in the U.S., there's no doubt that the quality of the fish being traded needs to be monitored and live up to FDA standards. However, the concern that Canadian aquaculture companies have is that this one incident will overshadow their compliance and dedication to quality farm-grown fish, he said.

"Ever since 2005, we've been testing our own fish quite frequently, at the hatchery and just before they go to harvest, as well as testing our food," he said. "We've amassed quite a bit of data and put it all together for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which amount to over 1,500 tests in the last three years, all negative."

He also said that after providing their accumulative test results, the CFIA was still compelled by the FDA results to treat the case with a full investigation. Samples from both Creative Salmon's site in Tofino and Marine Harvest's Port McNeill farm were taken by the CFIA and sent to Darmouth University for testing, while Marine Harvest took their own samples that were sent to the University of Geulph. All samples came back negative.

"Now we're all kind of at a standstill as to where to go from here," said Bachman. "They found 1.56 parts per billion in our fish which is trace of course, and the cut-off for CFIA is one part per billion. Nearly all of those 1,500 samples we've taken have been non-detectable, or at most once in a while we find levels of 0.3, indicative for me of background industrial activity. But we haven't even seen 0.3 in the last two years."

What the companies are particularly concerned with is that their reputations will suffer as news of the "tainted" fish sits in the public eye, without mention of their nearly unblemished record in the past

"It makes it look like it somehow got into our animals at our farm sites, and even with me going into details about all the negative testing, how do we get this taken off the record?" asked Bachman.

"What's also concerning for us is whether we've now tripped off a process that will cause us to be stopped at the border for a period of time before we go through some further form of testing. We just don't know, and we're waiting to find those things out."

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