FEATURE-Addicted to antibiotics, Chile's salmon flops at Costco, grocers

jueves 23 de julio de 2015 08:59 GYT

By Anthony Esposito

SANTIAGO, July 23 (Reuters) - Chile's salmon farmers are using record levels of antibiotics to treat a virulent and pervasive bacteria, driving away some U.S. retailers including Costco Wholesale Corp, which is turning to antibiotic-free Norwegian salmon.

The coastal waters of Chile, the world's second-largest producer of salmon, are awash with a bacteria known as SRS, or Piscirickettsiosis. The bacteria causes lesions and hemorrhaging in infected fish, and swells their kidneys and spleens, eventually killing them.

Unable to develop an effective vaccine, Chilean farmers have been forced to increase antibiotic use. In 2014, the industry produced around 895,000 tonnes of fish and used 563,200 kilograms (1.2 million pounds) of antibiotics, according to government and industry data. Antibiotic use had risen 25 percent from 2013.

In contrast, Norway, the world's largest salmon producer, produced around 1.3 million tonnes of fish and used 972 kilos of antibiotics in 2013. (Figures for last year were not immediately available)

Chilean officials say their salmon is safe and the antibiotics have been approved by U.S. food and drug regulators.

Still, amid growing concerns in the U.S. food industry that heavy use of antibiotics in animals can spawn drug-resistant superbugs and endanger human health, Costco told Reuters in April that it would reduce imports of Chilean salmon.

"The whole industry is starting to shift," said Jeff Lyons, who oversees fresh foods at Costco, the No. 3 U.S. retailer.

"If I was to ask you your biggest concern on produce, you might say pesticides. When we ask people in protein, generally it's going to be hormones or antibiotics."   Continuación...