The Know Nothing Club

Salmon Pens

Following is a copy of a Letter I sent to the NY Times regarding an idiotic Op-Ed they published last Monday by someone pretending to be an expert on sustainable food sources, but who really wants to blame fish farming for all the evils in the world. [Hyperbole intended.] It’s so frustrating to hear people who know little of what they would criticize repeat exaggerated platitudes to support their arguement. It’s even more frustrating when those people purport to be speaking up for ideas I care a great deal about. It’s lazy, and it ultimately reflects badly on the cause.

In any case, hear my righteous wrath:

To the Editor:

Regarding “Sardines With Your Bagel” by Taras Grescoe (published 9 June 2008 as an Op-Ed) — Mr. Grescoe addresses an important question — human impact on wild fish species, specifically the Pacific salmon so prized for their culinary qualities — but quickly digresses into an ill-informed and misleading attack on farmed salmon that shows little knowledge of agriculture or basic aquaculture. Surely Mr. Grescoe knows that commercially raised salmon are not the only conventionally raised livestock treated with pesticides — conventionally raised chickens are routinely fed them to reduce the viability of fly larvae in their manure…not to mention that worming medicines fed to all non-organically raised ungulate livestock are insecticides. He should point out that farmed salmon, like ALL farmed meats, may contain residues of the pesticides used to treat various maladies (organic meats included — though the pesticides allowed for use on organic livestock are limited to known list of active ingredients). However, I also challenge his implication that these chemicals (which are very expensive) are widely and regularly used on commercial salmon. If they were, farmed salmon might be as expensive as the Copper River Chinook!.

Mr. Grescoe cites a figure that it takes four pounds of ‘small fish like sardines” to make a single pound of farmed salmon without comparing that to the more than ten pounds of fish protein necessary to grow a pound of wild salmon meat. [He might also want to point out that the vast majority of sardines caught and landed in the US are used for lobster bait, not for human consumption!] And he ignores the issue of by-catch endemic in wild-caught operations — how many more pounds of fish are caught in gill nets and then thrown overboard to land his preferred fish? Mr. Grescoe also blames the presence of farmed fish in nets off the Pacific coast as a source of disease decimating wild stocks of salmon. Has he ever considered that it works both ways: that wild stocks, traveling freely between the netted fish, are the vector as well as victim? His argument for raising all fish in concrete tanks sounds eerily familiar to another lately discredited farming practice: Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the case of pigs, cows and chickens. If the husbandry of a commercial variety of any livestock species were to be avoided in proximity to their wild counterparts we could not raise turkeys anywhere in the US today. Yet the wild turkey has made a strong comeback from the endangered species list despite the widespread presence of commercial (and privately) raised turkey in their immediate habitat.

As an organic cheese maker, I cringe whenever I read pieces like Mr. Grescoe’s because of the blatantly idealogical nature of these pieces, generated without regard to facts or truly sustainable agricultural practices. I fear that these arguments can cause direct harm to those who grow and produce sustainable food by giving the supporters of chemically intensive agriculture an easy target for rebuttal while ignoring the important questions about the sustainability and safety of their preferred practices. They also harm, in the name of some greater good, those who use sustainable practices in the areas that Mr. Gresco generalize about.

By the way: Mr. Grescoe might want to double-check the sustainability of the sardine harvest on the Atlantic coast before wholeheartedly endorsing them as a suitable alternative; these populations have swung back and forth between plentiful and dangerously low within the last decade.

–Eric Rector
Monroe Cheese Studio
Monroe, Maine


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