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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 18:29 GMT
Industry defends Scottish salmon
Farmed salmon
Farmed salmon is said to contain more toxins than wild salmon
The salmon industry has strongly defended its produce following claims that eating too much of the farmed fish poses cancer risks.

The response came after researchers in the US advised people to eat no more than two ounces of Scottish farmed salmon every month.

Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS) - which represents 65% of production in the country - accused the researchers of being "deliberately misleading".

The Food Standards Agency has urged people to continue to eat the oily fish as it has many proven health benefits.

'Very low levels'

Dr John Webster, technical consultant at SQS, accused the US experts of "trying to make a bigger story than it [the research] deserves".

He added: "The message is that these levels that the study has revealed are miniscule, we're talking about measurements in parts per million-million.

Dr John Webster
Dr John Webster spoke out in defence of the Scottish salmon industry
"The beneficial effects of omega three fatty acids found in the salmon far outweigh any negative effects these very, very low levels of contaminants might create for consumers."

The findings of research into farmed salmon in Scotland and abroad have been published in the journal Science.

The American researchers claim that their work is the most comprehensive analysis to date of salmon toxin concentrations, looking at more than two metric tons of fish bought in shops in North America, South America and Europe.

They said levels of toxins were found to be highest in farmed salmon from Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

The largest study undertaken of pollutants in salmon found chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects in both fish from supermarkets and wholesalers.

Levels of 14 toxins were significantly higher in both European and North American farm-raised salmon than in fish caught in the wild, the scientists said.

Our advice is that people should consume at least two portions of fish a week - one of which should be oily like salmon
Food Standards Agency
Salmon farming, in which the fish are bred and fed in pens, is the reason why salmon is plentiful and affordable on supermarket shelves.

Dr Webster stressed that the PCB and dioxin levels found in Scottish salmon were significantly lower than the thresholds set by international watchdogs such as the European Union, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) or even the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

The assertion was backed by the Sir John Krebs, chairman of the FSA.

He said: "Our advice is that people should consume at least two portions of fish a week - one of which should be oily like salmon.

"There is good evidence that eating oily fish reduces the risk of death from recurrent heart attacks and that there is a similar effect in relation to first heart attacks.

Scottish Green Party leader Robin Harper
Robin Harper wants an inquiry
"Although dioxin levels have decreased dramatically over the past two decades we recognise that they remain a consumer concern.

"We advise that the known benefits of eating one portion of oily fish outweigh any possible risks."

Neil Spreckley - managing director of Bathgate-based EWOS Ltd, the world's largest salmon feed company - said the study had the potential to be "very damaging" to the industry.

"I think it is unfair on the consumers and is it probable that on the back of this report, we might find customers not buying any salmon for the next two weeks," he said.

But Gilpin Bradley, general manager of Ullapool-based Wester Ross Salmon, predicted that the study could have the opposite effect.

"Our customers know that the products have to meet high levels of quality and we welcome stories like this because they give the industry the chance to show that there is not a danger," he said.

'Not working'

He described the report as "scaremongering" and "sensationalist".

However, the Scottish Green Party has called for an inquiry to ensure farmed salmon is fit for human consumption.

Parliamentary leader Robin Harper said: "It is quite clear that the control and strategy presently in place are simply not working.

"All aspects of PCB and other contamination need to be urgently investigated."

He added: "I want to know why it is that this polluted food is finding its way onto the dinner plates of Scots.

"I understand that salmon is regularly assessed by executive agencies for some pollutants, but this report is a big sign that all is not well and the system of quality control is clearly failing."

The BBC's Tom Heap
"This morning's headlines were welcomed like a slap in the face with a wet fish"

BBC Scotland's Craig Anderson
"Some 6,500 jobs are underpinned by salmon farming "

Scare over farmed salmon safety
08 Jan 04  |  Health
Farm threat to wild salmon
20 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature
Deal aims to save salmon stocks
13 May 03  |  Scotland

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