Her friend and fellow anti-salmon farming protester Don Staniford, who ”will twist facts to conform to his own personal view,” suffers from “closed-mindedness and deep prejudices” making him ”an unreliable reporter of facts,” according to a BC Supreme Court judge, posted this. Morton responded.
See, the thing is, listeria is one of the most common bacteria on the planet. It’s in everything. Dirt. Water. Fruit. Vegetables. Meat. On your hands right now, probably.
It’s usually harmless.
But under the right conditions, it can grow and reproduce at levels that can cause harm to human beings.
Hypocritically, Staniford and Morton love to focus on reports of listeria in farmed salmon products, while ignoring the fact that many other kinds of food products have had to be recalled because of listeria outbreaks.
The worst foodborne illness outbreak in the USA was because of listeria. Sadly, 30 people died and made 146 people very sick.
And it was because of cantaloupes.The FDA investigation found that the bacteria could have come from a dump truck used to take culled melons to a cattle farm, and that it may have grown because the cantaloupes were not precooled to remove field heat before being put into cold storage.
Listeria is everywhere, but it only becomes a problem in our modern food supply system because of human error or oversight. It does not, as Morton claims, fester in farmed salmon throughout their lives to be passed on to the public. This is nonsense with no basis in fact.
To prevent the growth of listeria and other bacteria, as soon as farmed salmon is harvested it is put on ice in a boat hold. This temperature is maintained all the way to the processing plant, where it taken out of the boat, again kept on ice, and taken into the plant which is kept at a constant cold temperature. The processed fish are packed in ice, and taken to market in refrigerator trucks. The temperature is kept consistently cold enough to prevent any bacteria growth from the time the fish are caught to the time they are delivered to customers.
And customers who take that salmon to make products such as smoked salmon or gravlax or other ready-to-eat products must follow strict guidelines to test for listeria and ensure levels are low and safe.
Anytime there’s news of a recall it’s because there was a breakdown in the system somewhere. Not, because as Ms. Morton suggests, because “the little guys get in and go wild” and “there are no natural methods for removing the sick and contagious out of the population.”
Just in case her argument actually makes sense to anybody, consider this.
Were cavemen healthier than people today? Back in the day when they were “wild” and roaming free and there were “natural methods for removing the sick and contagious out of the population?” Were they healthier then compared to today, where people are “domesticated” and living in cities?
Back then, humans were lucky to make it to 30 years old. Then we got smart and developed agriculture. Then we got smarter and started figuring out what all the diseases were that were killing us, and fought back with medicine. Today, thanks to a consistent, nutritious food supply, and modern medicine, the average lifespan in Canada is 77 for men and 83 for women.
We apply those same smarts to farming animals. No farmer wants his animals to get sick and die. It’s in the farmer’s best interests to keep his animals healthy, happy and alive.
Morton does not seem to understand this, just like she does not seem to understand listeria, either.
There are several groups of people who would like to see salmon farming in B.C. die a quick death.
Anti-salmon farming activists, obviously, who oppose it for a variety of emotional reasons.
But the real opposition comes from groups with economic clout. Groups who don’t necessarily want salmon farming to die, but want to find some way to “break” it so they can secure their own financial future.
Before we explain, let’s look at some numbers.
- In 2010, B.C. exported $440 million worth of farmed salmon.
- More than 98 per cent of that went to the United States.
- In 2010, Alaska fishermen caught and sold $603 million worth of wild salmon (see page 47).
- Wholesalers turned that into a $1.5 billion value (page 49) that same year, processing salmon into value-added products.
- Nearly 56 per cent of that salmon ($833 million) went to domestic markets in the USA.
- In 1980 Alaskan salmon accounted for nearly half of the world’s total supply of salmon. In 2010, it accounted for less than eight per cent of the world’s salmon supply (page 64).
There’s a great big market out there worth billions of dollars, at home and abroad. Who wouldn’t want a piece of it.
But the problem is, people in the grocery store are mostly concerned about availability, nutrition and price.
Is farmed salmon available? Year-round, check. Is it nutritious? Check. Is it affordable? Check.
Alaskan marketers have done a brilliant job in the last decade of marketing their fish as a premium product, selling the image and wild feeling of Alaska rather than what is, which is, quite honestly, a not-very-tasty piece of frozen-at-sea pink salmon.
But still, most people in the grocery store couldn’t care less if there’s a picture on the package of a rugged fisherman holding up a salmon like Rafiki the monkey holds up Simba in the Lion King. If it’s not affordable, they ain’t gonna buy it.
Wild salmon marketers need to be smart. And here’s how they can break the B.C. salmon farming industry, putting it in a place subservient to their own interests.
Follow the example of Canadian beef
In 2002, Canadian beef was worth $1.4 billion in trade (value of exports over imports).
In 2011, that value had plummeted to $42 million.
What happened? Mad cow disease.
On May 20, 2003, a lab in Britain used as a reference lab by the OIE confirmed that one cow in Northern Alberta had BSE, an animal disease which may have a connection with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. Within hours of the confirmation, the USA closed the border to all Canadian beef. In retrospect, this was pure opportunism. The cow never entered the food supply, and the Americans’ downplaying of their own BSE cases a year later was hypocritical in comparison.
The ensuing fiasco had a ripple effect, which continues to affect the Canadian beef industry nearly 10 years later.
“Canada with all its natural, quality and production benefits is at risk of becoming a net importer of beef,” the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute reported in September this year. “The cattle cycle is presently experiencing lower production numbers but there is also no apparent strategy to regain valuable domestic market share.”
And the export market doesn’t look much better.
On the export stage, the Canadian industry is extremely reliant on one market — the USA, a market that accounts for 85% of Canada’s beef and cattle trade. The good news is the US generates $1.8 illion in total sales for Canada (nearly $1 billion in beef exports and over $800 million in cattle exports). The bad news is Canada is “backfilling” the US market; that is, by relying on Canadian cattle and beef supply, the US beef industry is expanding its exports and taking advantage of higher value and margins. And the Canadian industry appears to be content to let that happen.
The road to ruin
B.C. farmed salmon producers could find themselves in the same position, if they’re not careful. The path is already laid out for this to happen.
Factor one: wild salmon marketers have spent the past decade trying to convince people wild salmon is so much better than farmed.
Factor two: it’s only a matter of time before ocean aquaculture comes on line in the USA. Once it does, B.C. farmers had better have a plan to deal with it.
Factor three: B.C. is already “backfilling” the US market, providing cheap, nutritious farmed salmon available year-round to American customers while wild marketers work on expanding their markets and their profit margins by convincing people it’s worth paying more for a fish that was caught farther away and frozen at sea.
All it would take is a crisis in confidence, e.g. hysteria over ISA as prompted by anti-aquaculture activist Alexandra Morton, to motivate the USA to close the border to Canadian salmon, like it did for beef.
If that happened, who would profit? Wild salmon marketers, who would be able to increase their prices to meet demand, prices they haven’t enjoyed since the glory days of the 1980s when Alaska met nearly half of the world’s demand for salmon.
Would B.C.’s salmon farmers recover from something like that? Probably not.
Hopefully B.C. salmon producers, and Canada’s politicians, are not content to let this happen.