Thursday, September 04, 2008

Chile Reduces Salmon Antibiotics (but Fails to Address the Broader Environmental Issues)

Earlier this year, I commented on a story about salmon farming in Chile, where fish populations were being ravaged by a virus facilitated by industrial-style fish production in Chile. Although salmon-producers in Chile at the time denied that their practices were "unsafe for consumers" nor for the fish, the Chilean government finally apparently disagrees. The government's biggest step will be to reduce the level of antibiotics used on the fish (currently between 70 and 300 times above normal levels according to Dr. Felipe Caballo) in the hopes that drug-resistant bacteria don't develop. Like Caballos says, it's a step in the right direction.

However, based on what's reported in the article at least, I really don't see how the decision to reduce antibiotics is going to solve the overcrowding problem. Improving sanitary conditions and all is fine, but when the salmon industry has grown from 28,000 tons to 665,000 tons produced in just eighteen years is amazing, and the government representative is quoted as saying “The development of this sector [salmon] can only continue to grow and be successful if the private sector and government continue to work in a responsible and coordinated way,” then you clearly are not concerned with actually dealing with overproduction and the environmental costs of overproducing salmon (or any other foodstuff). I know I'm not an economics major, but you simply cannot simultaneously "grow" and "reduce" production levels at the same time, and the antibiotics decision does little to curb the environmental damage, including salmon waste killing other marine life and stripping water of oxygen, or salmon escaping and invading other rivers and lakes, eating the marine life there.

There's nothing that anybody will realistically do about this; salmon makes too much profit for Chile, and Americans like eating their fish too much to consider why it might be better to do without. So is reducing antibiotic levels a good idea? Probably. But at the end of the day, salmon production in Chile is still a major force of environmental degradation that nobody is really willing to do much about.