Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Costco Ditches Antibiotic-Laced Chilean Salmon


Costco is concerned about the antibiotics in fish. That’s why the nation’s third largest retailer ditched Chilean salmon in favor of antibiotic-free Norwegian salmon, Reuters reported on Thursday. Costco plans to buy 60 percent of its salmon from Norway, the retailer told Reuters, and that would reduce Chilean salmon by 40 percent.

Chile’s coast is teeming with salmon. The country is the second largest salmon producer in the world. The reason why Chilean salmon producers turn to antibiotics is that the coastal waters are also teeming with the bacteria called Piscirickettsiosis or SRS. It’s a rather nasty bacteria that, according to Reuters, causes “lesions and hemorrhaging in infected fish, and swells their kidneys and spleens, eventually killing them.” Salmon producers have yet to develop a vaccine to combat the bacteria.

Chile’s salmon industry produced about 895,000 tons of fish in 2014, and 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics. Antibiotic use increased a whopping 25 percent from 2013. Norway is the largest salmon producer, and while the country produced 1.3 million tons of salmon, only 972 kilograms of antibiotics were used in 2013. Norway’s use of antibiotics in fish and seafood is at the lowest it has been since the late 1970s, according to a recent report from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute.

Why is Costco so concerned about antibiotic use in fish? Jeff Lyons, overseer of fresh foods at Costco, told Reuters, “The whole industry is starting to shift.” He added that when people are asked about their biggest concerns with protein, “generally it's going to be hormones or antibiotics.” In other words, Costco is listening to its customer’s concerns.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat

There is a reason why consumers are concerned about antibiotics use among livestock and fish. Antimicrobial resistance, which includes antibiotic resistance, is real and it is on the rise. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) characterizes antimicrobial resistance as a “growing global threat.” The FDA cites the use of antibiotics in animals as contributing to the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

A 2006 study looked the use of antibiotics in finfish aquaculture to combat bacterial infections “resulting from sanitary shortcomings in fish rearing.” It mentions that finfish aquaculture has seen “accelerated growth.” The trouble with using antibiotics in fish is that they stay in the aquatic environment. That, in turn, has caused antibiotic-resistant bacteria to pop up in aquaculture environments. Those resistant bacteria can be transferred to human pathogens.

The study called for “global efforts” to promote the “more judicious use of prophylactic antibiotics in aquaculture as accumulating evidence indicates that unrestricted use is detrimental to fish, terrestrial animals, and human health and the environment.”

In other words, more retailers need to ditch antibiotic-laced fish for more sustainable alternatives. The health of our aquaculture environments and our own health depends on it.

Image credit: Flickr/Boca Dorada

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman

More stories from Energy & Environment