Labeling salmon disease history?

With consumers in favor and most - but not all - of the industry against, the proposal to label the disease history of salmon will reach the Norwegian Parliament this week, as Iceland follows the lead of its neighbors.
Closeup of fresh Norwegian Atlantic salmon fillet. A proposal for labeling salmon disease history will reach the Norwegian Parliament this week.
Closeup of fresh Norwegian Atlantic salmon fillet. A proposal for labeling salmon disease history will reach the Norwegian Parliament this week.Adobe Stock.

The Norwegian Socialist Left Party (SV) will this week bring to the Storting, the Norwegian Parliament, a proposal to introduce salmon disease history labeling in the country. This was reported in an in-depth article in the Norwegian local media NRK, which has also reflected the support of the Norwegian Consumer Council, Forbrukerrådet, for the measure. In contrast, Sjømat Norge, Norway's largest seafood organization, opposes the measure, although Sjømatbedriftene, a smaller association that organizes small private fishing companies, considers it inevitable.

While this is happening in Norway, Iceland, where public opinion is in full debate about aquaculture in the wake of the Arctic Fish escape and the sea lice problems in the Westfjords, is looking to the example of its neighbors. According to local media RÚV, the Consumers' Association has also expressed interest in a similar labeling system for farmed fish produced in the island country.

SV and consumers agree on the need for labeling

Although without a specific date, the NRK article states that it will be this week when the SV will propose to the Norwegian Parliament to introduce this type of disease history labeling on fish products. "The health of fish in Norwegian aquaculture is not good enough," Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes, Deputy Leader of SV and Fisheries Policy Spokesperson, told NRK. "We must address this with stronger regulations and more significant consequences for poor fish welfare," he added.

"Consumers need to have more knowledge about animal welfare and production conditions of the fish sold in stores. That's why SV will propose that fish in stores should be labeled with their disease history," Knag Fylkesnes continued. A report from the SIFO Research Institute agrees, stating that an increasing proportion of Norwegian consumers are skeptical about the welfare of farmed fish.

"Consumers want greater transparency in the aquaculture industry," Senior Researcher at SIFO, Anneken Bahr Bugge, told NRK. "Labeling is an important way for consumers to find out about the food they purchase. If consumers learn that the fish they are buying is the result of poor animal welfare, I think they would eat less fish," she added. Of the same opinion is the leader of the Consumer Council, Inger Lise Blyverket, who in the same article said that "many consumers would welcome a labeling system for salmon."

According to her, both Norwegian salmon breeders and other food producers need to recognize that Norwegian consumers want to know more about production conditions and animal welfare. From Blyverket's point of view, such a measure, which obliges fish farmers to label fish disease history, would force breeders to improve fish health. "When they are required to label, it will lead to greater attention to animal health," she said.

Unnecessary or unavoidable? The industry is divided

Against these views, Jon Arne Grøttum, director of Sjømat Norge replies in the same article by remarking that fish diseases do not transmit to humans and have no effect on quality or food safety. He opposes fish labeling because, he stated, it is an irrational proposal. "If labeling sick animals were relevant or useful for food safety or quality, the authorities would have ensured it," he said.

The director of Norway's largest seafood organization listed for NRK the factors that, in his opinion, speak against fish labeling. "Firstly, this is not about food safety. Secondly, it's very difficult to implement. You would have to conduct a pathological examination of each fish, even if you know the cause. And thirdly, it's somewhat strange to introduce this type of labeling for salmon and not for other animal meat production," he stated.

Sjømat Norge believes it is difficult to set objective criteria that exactly determine fish welfare and recalls that the Norwegian aquaculture industry is already subject to a strict management regime with standards related to fish health and food safety. However, not all of the sector in Norway feels the same way. Another professional association, Sjømatbedriftene, which organizes small private fishing companies, sees it differently.

"We believe that regardless of whether there is a regulation or not, such labeling will become necessary," Robert Holmøy Eriksson, Sjømatbedriftene CEO, told NRK. "We see that more in the market are requesting such tracking services, and a tracking of seafood from hatching to fish is already available in the market, so better tracking will likely be the case in the future."

Will labeling also be enforced in Iceland?

There are no reactions from the government yet, although given that Iceland is working on its new aquaculture policy and the debate on the control of fish farming is open in the country, it would not be excluded that something like this could be included in the final bill. For the time being, the Icelandic Consumers' Association is following the example of its Norwegian counterparts and is in favor of labeling salmon disease history.

Speaking to local Icelandic media RÚV, Breki Karlsson, chairperson of the Consumers' Association of Iceland said that consumers have the right to receive information about the origin of food. "Especially salmon that has been the subject of recent discussions due to various unfortunate incidents," he highlighted.

As confirmed to RÚV by Berglind Harpa Bergsdóttir, a specialist veterinarian who monitors the health and welfare of farmed fish at the Icelandic Food Safety Authority, in Iceland, infected fish without any symptoms of the virus are processed for human consumption. The article notes that this was done, for example, in 2021, when infectious anemia appeared in sea pens in the east of the country. Then, the Food Safety Authority sent a notification, both about the presence of the infection and about the use of the fish for humans.

Like the director of Sjømat Norge pointed out in the NRK article mentioned above, the RÚV article also remarks that people are not harmed by consuming infected fish. A statement that, in the case of Iceland, is confirmed by the chairperson of the Consumers' Association himself. "No, these viruses that cause these diseases do not transmit to humans," stated Berglind Harpa.


- 'Uenighet i bransjen om sykdomsmerking av laks', NRK article by Anne Cecilie Remen, Ole Reinert Omvik, and Line Tomter.

- 'Tekur undir kröfu um að merkja sýktan lax', RÚV article by Róbert Jóhannsson.

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