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Historisk arkiv

New market challenges - increased focus on safety and sustainability - 4 June 2004

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Bondevik II

Utgiver: Fiskeridepartementet

Speech by the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries Svein Ludvigsen - under “The 9th North Atlantic Fisheries Ministers Conference”, Stykkisholmur, Island - 4 June 2004

Speech by the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries Svein Ludvigsen - under “The 9th North Atlantic Fisheries Ministers Conference”, Stykkisholmur, Island – 4 June 2004

New market challenges - increased focus on safety and sustainability - 4 June 2004

Speech by the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries Svein Ludvigsen - under “The 9th North Atlantic Fisheries Ministers Conference”, Stykkisholmur, Island – 4 June 2004

In January a large number of headlines in newspapers worldwide stated, “If you eat farmed salmon you will have cancer”. This came as a result of an article in the US magazine Science, concluding that the consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks.

As a result of the article, all salmon producing countries joined forces. We wanted to present thorough and independent documentation, underlining that the content of the article was misleading. Fish, farmed or wild, has its natural place in a well balanced diet to ensure safe and healthy food for us all.

Even David Byrne the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection reacted against the American study. In a press release he stressed that the levels of dioxin reported in the study are all below the EU maximum levels.

It is well known that part of the European population is exposed to dioxin levels above recommended maximum levels. Norway and the EU have therefore established a strategy to reduce the contamination levels of dioxins and PCBs in the environment, in feed and in foodstuffs. The aim is of course to ensure a high level of public health protection.

In Norway, The National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, has run a surveillance scheme on contaminants in wild and farmed fish since 1994. The PCBs have been included since the start. Since 1999 the scheme has been expanded to include the analyses of dioxin in farmed fish. So far, the analyses show that the dioxin content is far below the upper limit in force in EU.

Although the figures presented by the American scientists are old news, such articles may still cause serious damage for the exporters, as well as the seafood industry worldwide. Rumours said that the article was paid by the US meat industry in order to increase the consumption of meat at the expense of seafood. Another theory is that it was supported by the wild-salmon industry. What is for sure is that such misleading information is a threat for all salmon producing countries.

For the Norwegian export of farmed salmon the article resulted in a short term decrease in export of salmon to France, Poland, Japan and Spain,- and a standstill in salmon campaigns in several department stores. Due to rapid responses from research institutes and food authorities, the problems seem to have been on a temporary basis. However, the long-term consequences remain to be seen.

We also have examples of other areas where competitors and non-governmental organisations have spread information that is misleading or inaccurate. Two years ago Norway experienced a decrease in the export of cod to Sweden. The reason for this was that some media and non-governmental organizations claimed that the cod is threatened with extinction.

This is of course a misunderstanding of the facts. First of all, cod as a species is in no way endangered. Secondly, it is important to supply information so that the public and consumers are able to differentiate between various cod stocks and their individual situations. The fact is that the cod in the Barents Sea, which is one of Norway’s key fish stocks, is well managed, while the cod stocks in other areas have declined to a very low level.

Why have all these problems arisen within the past years? One of the reasons, I believe, is that consumers and importers are more sensitive and aware of questions related to food safety and sustainable development of resources. The problems we face are strengthened by the fact that Internet makes information spread widely within only a few hours. Spreading of incorrect or misleading information will therefore have a much broader range today than only few years ago. Increased competition within the food industry, with following spreading of rumours could of course also be a reason.

Regardless of the reasons, we have to provide the consumers with correct information and to respond quickly enough when misleading information is spread. To do this;

We must continue to provide for correct and relevant knowledge of the role of seafood for human health, both with regard to safety and health benefits. The article published in Science illustrates the need for a thorough and independent documentation and communication based upon openness and transparency.

We need to improve our system for crises communication. The aim is to react rapidly and communicate correctly in all situations that could be a potential threat to the reputation of Norwegian seafood. In Norway the Norwegian Food Control Authority and the Norwegian Seafood Export Council play an important part in this work.

We must work in order to improve the reputation of the seafood industry worldwide, both when it comes to seafood safety and sustainable resource management. To do this we have to work actively in relevant international foras.

We also have to communicate openly with the importers and consumers. When consumers loose confidence in the safety or sustainability of a product, they will simply stop buying it. The trade and the industry suffer immediately; even if the loss of confidence is not founded on facts.

The challenges related to misleading information and unfounded accusations are global, and may harm the market situation for seafood, regardless of national origin of the seafood. It is therefore in the interest of us all to cooperate to improve our ability to handle such unexpected situations.

In June this year I have invited salmon producing countries to a Roundtable Conference on consumer information related to food safety issues. During the conference we will discuss how to enhance and ameliorate our knowledge (research) and information in future. Seafood safety has to be taken seriously and scientific committees in various countries are already deeply involved in the issue based upon current scientific knowledge as well as lack of knowledge.

From my point of view it is obvious that countries that are engaged in fish farming and fishing have common interest in discussing how to counter unfounded and ill-founded accusations. I assume that importing countries also would like to and should be included in such a work. I believe we have to establish network cooperation systems across the borders among food safety authorities and research institutions.

As friends of seafood we must join forces to focus on the overall health benefits of seafood. Norway therefore wants to establish contacts and cooperation to promote fish and seafood as the safe and healthy food it is. The challenge is to bring forward balanced information on health risks and benefits of seafood products to the consumers.

I hope that you find this as challenging and important as I do, and that the topic could be on the agenda also within the Conference of Ministers of Fisheries from the North Atlantic States (NAFMC), working together in order to increase the demand for safe, healthy and tasty seafood.

Thank you!

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