In China, the salmon labeling controversy follows a litany of food labeling problems that have angered consumers and cast doubt on the country’s ability to enforce safety standards. Melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, was found in dairy products that sickened tens of thousands of children in 2008. In 2013, police accused traders of selling rat and mink as mutton. In 2014, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. recalled meat labeled as donkey after testing showed it contained fox meat.
The new rules in China came three months after state media recirculated a video segment profiling a large freshwater fishery at the Longyangxia Reservoir in Qinghai Province. The company, it said, supplied one-third of China’s salmon. That piqued the interest of other media in China, as Qinghai is an inland province far from the ocean. Subsequent reports said a considerable amount of fish labeled as salmon in China was actually rainbow trout.
The industry argued that the fish are essentially the same — and Chinese regulators this week agreed. The rules issued this week by the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance, an industry group affiliated with China’s Ministry of Agriculture, said that though rainbow trout can be marketed as salmon, markets and restaurants also have to list the species of the fish and its origin. For example, a label might read “salmon (Atlantic salmon)” or “salmon (rainbow trout).”
Higher-cost rainbow trout are often raised in fiberglass tanks or in cages in oceans. Some fish breeders add salt into the water, though its effect on parasites has not been widely studied, said Dr. Kwok, the fish farming expert. He said Atlantic salmon also carry parasites, but they are highly unlikely to be infectious to humans.
China’s fish industry defends the safety of its freshwater production, saying that the waters at China’s fish farms are carefully controlled.
“Whether salmon has parasites does not depend on whether it is bred in seawater or freshwater, but rather on whether its growth can be safely monitored,” said another industry group, the China Fisheries Association, in an announcement that has since been removed from its website.
In fact, the group added, consumers might be pleased with rainbow trout instead of salmon. In countries like Norway and Chile, it claimed, “many locals prefer rainbow trout, and the price of rainbow trout is higher than that of Atlantic salmon.”
Chinese internet users ridiculed claims about the rainbow trout’s higher value, saying that they would rather just have the regular salmon, please, because they could not afford to carry parasites.