A chemical carcinogen found in salmon products has prompted the FDA to stop all U.S.-bound imports of fresh and frozen salmon produced by the Marine Harvest firm in Chile, according to Fish Info and Services Co (FIS). Salmon exports are one of the most prominent industries in Chile.
The discovery happened in early June when a batch of salmon contained traces of crystal violet (sometimes referred to as gentian violet), which is typically used to remove fungi in tanneries and the farmed salmon industry. The use of this chemical is illegal and is prohibited for use in food throughout the European Union and the U.S. Studies on this carcinogen have showed a negative impact on laboratory animals exposed to the crystal violet.
“The crystal violet is an antifungal product that is prohibited in Chile and the U.S. due to its carcinogenic effects,” as stated by Analia Murias’ article in FIS.
According to their website, Marine Harvest is “the world’s leading seafood company and the largest producer of farmed salmon.” Their companies and products span across the globe in 20 countries.
The Santiago Times reports that Marine Harvest’s sales and marketing director claims the company doesn’t use crystal violet and officials in Chile did not detect any of the substance prior to the salmon being shipped to North America. An investigation is underway to determine the contaminant source.
The Import Genius database detailing ocean freight shipping records shows nearly 2,100 shipments imported into the U.S. from Marine Harvest firm in Chile since 2006. Of those shipments, almost 1,500 contained salmon products. The data also shows that Marine Harvest has imported 22 shipments containing salmon since the start of 2013, and the weight of these imports exceeded 881,500 pounds.
Their website states the main product produced in Chile is “Atlantic salmon, sold fresh and frozen in a variety of forms such as: whole, fillets, steaks, boneless fresh. Smoked salmon is an additional product.” According to Murias, the ban on imports does not apply to smoked salmon.
Looking at a global overview since 2006, Marine Harvest companies’ exports of salmon to the U.S. have ranged from about 220 to nearly 600 shipments annually. Their imports peaked in 2007 with 581 shipments, but have since decreased with just less than 200 shipments recorded during 2012.
Delving into an overall snapshot of salmon imports into the U.S. this year, the first quarter saw strong numbers with a monthly average of 750 salmon shipments imported from January through March. The beginning of the second quarter followed a similar trend with 680 and 770 shipments recorded in April and May, respectively. However, imports began to slump last month and numbers have continued to drop. Less than 400 salmon shipments were received in June while about 150 have been received to date in July. Imports throughout the third quarter and into late 2013 will determine how much of a broader impact this contaminated salmon may have on overall U.S. imports of salmon products.