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Raincoast Research Society

Drug resistant human bacteria

Enterococcus, Pseudomonas and Serratia have been discovered near fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago.

These bacteria may pose a serious health risk to consumers of farmed fish.

Alex Morton wrote the following letter to Canada's Minister of Health.

April 16, 2001
Health Minister Allan Rock
House of Commons
Ottawa, ONT. K1A 0K9

Dear Minister Rock:

I am writing to inform you that a bacteria causing serious illness in hospitals of North America has recently been isolated from wild fish under a commercial salmon farm near Vancouver Island.
Enterococcus is one of the leading causes of death due to infections picked up in hospitals.

When a salmon farm moved out last fall, I went to the site and caught a ling cod, a benthic, bottom-dwelling species and took a bacterial swab of its kidney. The lab found
Enterococcus and also Pseudomonas, which was resistant to eight out of ten antibiotics tested, including Erythromycin and Penicillin.

A few weeks ago a salmon farm moved back onto this infected site. In the name of public safety, this farm should be inspected and quarantined.

Enterococcus bacteria could have come from terrestrial animal by-products, such as blood and chicken feathers, used in fish feed. Scientists have found Enterococcus moving through the food supply from livestock animals. It may also have come from the farm's human sewage. A recent provincial investigation found, only one in eight B.C. salmon farms practices proper sewage treatment and discharge. Because human fecal matter is being discharged near the surface, it is an easy drift from the floating crew quarters attached to the pens, through the nets, into the salmon being fattened for market. Human waste contains bacteria, drug residues and drug resistance. There is a remote possibility Enterococcus is "naturally" occurring here, however, it has not been identified in wild fish sampled distant from salmon farms. However, it got there, it is paramount the Enterococcus bacteria not pick up drug resistances and be passed on to the public in the "food" grown on salmon farms.

Enterococcus is not the first alarming lab result I have received. In 1999, an Atlantic, farm salmon removed from a local creek was infected with Serratia bacteria resistant to 11 out of the 18 antibiotics tested. While Fisheries and Oceans Canada suggested the bacteria originated from the creek water, and the province guessed the open sores on the fish were due to stick abrasions - Scotland reported a problem with Serratia in farm salmon when human sewers on salmon farms leaked. Further testing found no trace of Serratia in the stream's wild fish. Your response was to inform me that Canada is taking a lead role in controlling drug resistance in food, but last week we learned the vast majority of septic tanks on B.C.'s salmon farms are chronically leaking human waste into the seawater they are using to raise salmon. This is not only disgusting, it is apparently common, and dangerous to the public health. I don't feel you are taking this Canadian "food" issue seriously.

My sample size is small, in fact, I was not looking for human pathogens and drug resistance. However, while two samples are by no means conclusive, they certainly warrant further immediate investigation.

Alexandra Morton