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“Color added” signs required for farmed salmon at Oregon supermarkets


16th April 2003

Oregon residents may soon be noticing new signs next to their grocery stores’ farmed salmon displays.

In accordance with federal labelling laws, retailers in the state are being required to post a inch sign at seafood counters and on packaging, stating “color added” or “artificial color,” next to salmon fed astaxanthin and canthaxanthin - two ingredients commonly found in farmed salmon feed.

The little known law, which appears to be rarely enforced, was brought to the attention of Oregon officials in December after a fisherman asked the state Department of Agriculture about the law.

“We weren’t even aware of it,” explained Michael Govro, an assistant administrator with the department’s food safety division. “We looked at the requirement and he was indeed correct. We definitely think this is an issue that people need to know about.”

On Dec. 9, the division sent out a notice to all seafood retailers and seafood processors in Oregon, informing them of the federal statute (21 CFR 101.22), which states: “A food shall be exempt while held for sale from the requirements of section 403 (k) of the Act (requiring label statement of any artificial flavoring, artificial colouring or chemical preservatives) if said food, having been received in bulk containers at a retail establishment, is displayed to the purchaser with either (1) the labelling of the bulk container plainly in view or (2) a counter card, sign, or other appropriate device bearing prominently and conspicuously the information required to be stated on the label pursuant to section 403 (k).”

The letter also informed seafood processors and grocers that the department’s field personnel would be monitoring compliance in future inspections.

Since then, enforcement of the statute has been slow-moving, acknowledged Govro, who said the department has received a few calls about the regulation but has not been aggressively monitoring it since the law is considered a new regulation for most retailers.

In addition, because grocery stores are typically inspected only twice a year, Govro said the enforcement process will be gradual, with inspectors educating retailers and noting incidences of non-compliance in the first couple inspections.

However, he added that “if someone really digs in their heels and says they won’t do it,” the department has the authority to embargo the product until the labelling requirement is obeyed. The statute does not extend to civil penalties though, Govro noted.

Meanwhile, news of the labelling requirement is slowly leaking out to retailers. While wholesale giant Costco recently told a trade magazine that it was adding labels to its farmed salmon products, a seafood buyer at Stroheckers Thriftway was unaware of the notice. “It’s amazing to me,” said John Gibson. "I haven’t seen it and I keep my ears close to the ground."

While Gibson was reluctant to speculate on consumer reaction to the sign, he noted that at inch, it could be hard for customers to see. But, either way, he was not particularly concerned with its impact on seafood sales. “People love wild fish. It outsells farmed-raised fish two to one.”

In the meantime, the level of enforcement in other states is unclear but appears to be minimal.

That could change, however, if anti-farmed salmon activists are successful with a new initiative. IntraFish learned yesterday that Anne Mosness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is considering bringing a class action lawsuit against retailers and possibly state agencies, for failing to comply with the federal regulation.

Although the process is still in the preliminary stage, Mosness said that a number of food safety groups have expressed interest in the issue. “This is definitely a health issue. If they are negligent, they need to be held to task.”