Lawsuits seek 'dyed' label on farmed salmon

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2003

YAKIMA, Wash. A Seattle law firm is suing the country's three largest grocery chains, contending they failed to disclose to shoppers the coloring additives that turn farm-raised salmon pink.

The three proposed class actions against the Kroger Co., Safeway and Albertsons were filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, said Paul Kamp-meier with Smith & Lowney.

Pink sells salmon,'' he said. To artificially color salmon without giving that information to consumers, we believe that's unfair and deceptive, and it's also against federal law.''

The flesh of farmed salmon is naturally grayish, and the salmon are given special feed to alter their hue to a more desirable shade.

Representatives for Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway all said they had not seen the lawsuits and could not comment on the specifics.

Our goal is to always provide the highest quality and freshest products,'' said Shane McEntarf-fer, a spokesperson for Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons.

We want to assure our customers that we buy our salmon from well-regarded, reputable suppliers who are known for their high quality standards and who guarantee that they comply with all federal, state and local laws,'' said Cherie Myers, a spokesperson in the Seattle office of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway.

The seafood product we sell in our stores is safe and wholesome.''

And from Cincinnati-based Kroger, which is the parent company for Fred Meyer and QFC in the Northwest: We believe that the farm-raised salmon sold in our stores is nutritious and wholesome and fully complies with all federal labeling guidelines,'' said spokes-person Gary Rhodes.

Salmon farming has come under attack in recent years by some environmentalists, commercial fisherman and biologists, who contend the operations are little more than giant feedlots in the sea.

The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform in British Columbia last year organized a restaurant and retail boycott of farmed salmon, arguing that the fish-farming practices were environmentally unsound; that farmed Atlantic salmon compete unfairly with wild fish; and that the end product was neither as tasty nor as healthy for consumers as free-swimming salmon.

Salmon farms allow consumers to get the fish fresh year-round at inexpensive prices.

The pigments added to farmed fish food are synthetic versions of naturally occurring ones in the diet of wild fish not unlike taking a vitamin C tablet instead of eating an orange,'' said the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, an industry group.

In British Columbia, which exports more than 85 percent of its farmed salmon for U.S. consumption, the pigments are added at levels below those allowed by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administra-tion and the European Union, the association said.

Kampmeier said the lawsuits were not simply activism against salmon farming.

This is a case about consumer protection and ensuring consumers' right to know whether the salmon they're buying is naturally pink or artificially colored,'' Kampmeier said.

All of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits are from metropolitan Seattle and each bought salmon in grocery stores in King County, said lawyer Knoll Lowney.

These are all consumers who purchased the artificially colored salmon without being informed it contained artificial color,'' Lowney said.

The lawsuits contend that the stores failed to place written notices of the coloring at their fish counters, which can mislead consumers as to the origin of their salmon.

The lawsuits accuse the grocery chains of unjust enrichment, deceptive and unfair business practices, breach of contract, breach of warranties and negligent misrepresentation.

They seek a court order requiring the chains to inform shoppers that the salmon are artificially colored.

The lawsuits do not ask for a specific amount of damages, but Smith & Lowney said damages could be in excess of tens of millions of dollars.

Consumers believe that the color of the salmon indicates its quality, and they're willing to pay more for better salmon,'' Lowney said.

That's why they need to be able to trust that their grocers are showing them real color and, if there's artificial coloring, they should be notified.''

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