20th January 2004
It is hardly surprising that the peer-reviewed study into salmon contamination that appeared in Science last week is being attacked. This is why from the outset the Green MSPs have called for an independent inquiry into the whole toxicity and contamination issue, not just for the benefit of consumers but also for the benefit of the salmon farming industry.
I want to make quite clear that Greens support a sustainable future for the aquaculture industry, but this will only be achieved if the industry can supply a consistently high quality product. Surely it is common sense, when scientific researchers are finding alarming levels of toxic contaminants in Scottish farmed salmon, to suggest that we need to look carefully at where they are coming from and how they can be reduced. This is a serious issue for public health.
We need an inquiry because significant questions still remain. The first question is: why are independent, verifiable and up-to-date figures not being produced to confirm or dispute the findings in Science? The only figures made public by the Food Standards Agency date back to 1996. The Scottish Executive must ensure that proper tests of the quality of Scottish farmed salmon are conducted and publicised on a repeated basis. Indeed, that is why this week Green MSPs have specifically asked the Executive for this data for both farmed and wild salmon.
The second question is: is the FSA pursuing a robust enough model to identify all the potential health effects of the contaminants in salmon? The FSA has dismissed the governmentʼs Central Science Laboratory which suggested salmon could be in excess of World Health Organisation limits, but the reasons remain unclear and debatable. The editorial in this weekʼs New Scientist magazine rightly recognises that the proponents of cautious and less cautious models of risk assessment are quite happy to rubbish each others approaches without addressing the underlying assumptions and uncertainties.
The FSA is not beyond criticism and neither should it be. The existence of an independent Food Standards Agency is welcome, but criticism of the leadership of the agency has not just come from Greens. For example, last week saw Professor David Atkinson from the Scottish Agricultural College criticise the FSA for failing to recognise the nutritional benefits of organic food.
We should never shy away from facing facts, unpalatable or otherwise. The worst thing for the industry now is for truth to be buried, only to re-emerge later. Letʼs have the full picture investigated and work to resolve the issues.
Eleanor Scott MSP
(Note: this item was originally published on Eleanor Scott’s Parliamentary website.)