Steve Percival – opinion piece as published in the Mercury 9/06/2021
In attacking the Tasmanian salmon industry, Richard Flanagan is attacking the integrity of the people working in the industry. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Mr Flanagan however, has a privileged platform on which to publicise his views … but with this, comes responsibility.
It is important that debate is based on facts and presented in a balanced manner, particularly when an entire industry, its workforce and the benefits of that industry to the Tasmanian economy and community is at stake. In the space available here, I can only briefly address some of the misinformation in his book, but I hope that readers will seek to broaden the source of information they use so as to properly inform their opinion on the industry.
Generalisations or cherry- picked information can too easily be used to bias a debate. Many examples presented by Mr Flanagan fall into this category.
For instance, he asserts the abuse of antibiotics. This is simply not true. Huon employs three veterinarians and in my entire 30 years with the company, there has never been an issue with antibiotic residues in our salmon products. Huon has not used antibiotics in sea pens since 2016 and in rare cases when small amounts have been used in juvenile fish in freshwater hatcheries, it was absolutely necessary based on thorough investigation and under stringent controls. Treated fish were not harvested until well in excess of the legally required withholding period.
Not only do we fully comply with Tasmanian government regulations, we must also comply with our professional and legal obligations under the Tasmanian Veterinary Surgeons Board, the Australian Veterinary Association and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. All veterinarians in Tasmania are audited by the Veterinary Surgeons Board and we are no different. We also comply fully with World Health Organisation standards for appropriate use of veterinary medicines in livestock.
Like all good livestock farmers, we take a proactive approach in promoting health and welfare of our stock. A key component of this includes feeding high quality diets. Formulation involves detailed assessment of the nutritional composition of available ingredients to promote fish health and performance. Cooked by-products from poultry, processed for human consumption and made into a high protein powder, are part of the diet. This is a high quality ingredient providing nutrients from a by-product otherwise destined for waste. Is this not a good thing? This also reduces pressure on ingredients sourced from wild fisheries. Sustainable use of ingredients and minimising waste is not only important in livestock feeds. It is also an increasing trend in restaurants, with some Michelin Star chefs promoting the use of as many parts of the animal as possible to minimise wastage.
Astaxanthin, which gives salmon their orange flesh, is an antioxidant important to the health of the fish whether they be farmed or wild. Astaxanthin is but one of hundreds of compounds found widely in nature which give foods such as tomatoes and carrots their characteristic colours; fruit and vegetables are all full of such compounds.
Mr Flanagan writes of the dangers of the antioxidant ethoxyquin, but without context. Permitted residue levels of ethoxyquin are stated by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and include crustaceans, fish, poultry and eggs. With regards to salmon, ethoxyquin is only used in certain feed ingredients like fish meal. It is not added separately to feed. Even if a person was to eat 4kg of salmon every day, they would still be below the acceptable level advised by the World Health Organisation. During testing of our salmon products, no residues of ethoxyquin have been detected.
Like so many compounds, the risks come down to the quantity consumed. Vitamin D is essential for human health, but toxic if used in excess. Same with salt.
Mr Flanagan’s book is full of examples completely lacking context. The selective use of information presented without context might sell lots of books, but it should not be used on its own to inform opinion. Mr Flanagan would have us believe that there is a huge conspiracy between the EPA, DPIPWE, IMAS, CSIRO, Veterinary Surgeons Board, RSPCA, Global GAP Certification, Food Standards Code of Australia and New Zealand, National Residue Survey, nutritionists and organisations promoting human preventative health and wellbeing to support a “toxic” salmon industry. It is an outrageous suggestion.
Continuous improvement processes are embedded in our business practices. We all have a valuable role to play here, however to do this productively we must respectfully consider the facts with a balanced view of the issues. There is a plethora of information on government, research organisation, industry and other websites which may offer a very different perspective. Mr Flanagan’s book may well be his view of the salmon industry, but the truth is another story.
Dr Steve Percival is a veterinary scientist who has worked with Huon Aquaculture for more than 30 years. He had his own consultancy for 10 years, when he did work for the federal government and other aquaculture industries. He has been on numerous scientific and research steering committees and worked extensively with world-recognised scientists nationally and globally.