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Chile’s salmon fisheries using high levels of antibiotics

Chile’s salmon farmers are using record numbers of antibiotics in treating a very virulent bacteria known as SRS, or Piscirickettsiosis. The disease is almost always fatal for salmon. And this latest outbreak is not the first time it has occurred.

Chilean officials insist the salmon is safe to eat and the antibiotics have been approved by U.S. food and drug regulators. Chilean salmon farmers also insist the antibiotics are medically necessary to prevent SRS. “This is only something given to sick fish so they don’t die. It’s not something preventive,” the CEO of salmon producer Camanchacha tells Reuters.

But amid concerns over the growing number of pathogenic bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, and becoming “super bugs,” consumers are becoming more discerning in what is used to produce their food products. Costco Wholesale Corp. is one of a number of U.S. retailers that have begun looking for other sources of farm-raised salmon.

Costco told Reuters in April that it would reduce imports of Chilean salmon, and look to Norway. In 2013, Norway produced around 1.3 million tons of fish and used 972 kilos (2143 pounds) of antibiotics.

“The whole industry is starting to shift,” said Jeff Lyons, who oversees fresh foods at Costco. “If I was to ask you your biggest concern on produce, you might say pesticides. When we ask people in protein, generally it’s going to be hormones or antibiotics.”

Costco used to buy almost 90 percent of the 600,000 pounds of salmon fillets it sells each week from Chile, amounting to about 8.5 percent of the total of Chilean salmon exports to the U.S. But Costco is cutting its imports from Chile to only 40 percent, buying the rest of their salmon from Norway.

Generally, this move by Costco will hurt the Chilean salmon industry, tarnishing their reputation. In the past, Whole Foods Market Inc and Trader Joe’s have phased out Chilean salmon in favor of wild-caught, antibiotic-free fish. “This is the beginning of a change in seafood,” said Tobias Aguirre, the executive director of FishWise, which offers a program for retailers wishing to market fish based on the sustainability of their farming or catch methods.

Fishwise is a consultant organization and works with retailers such as Safeway and Target Corp. Target has already eliminated all farmed salmon from their shelves. Other retailers will look at their lead and try to better understand why Costco made this move, and I think they will follow,” Aguirre said.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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