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Stores Agree to Identify Artificially Colored Fish

by Michael Milstein
The Oregonian, May 1, 2003

Three large grocery chains have pledged to begin labeling farm-raised salmon as containing artificial red coloring a week after each was hit by a class-action lawsuit for failing to do so.

Safeway, Albertson's and Kroger, parent company of Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers, all said they would notify customers of the added color either on package labeling or in a placard in refrigerated cases.

"It's being done right now," Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling said.

Federal and state laws require that farm-grown salmon bear labels that show the use of artificial colorants. Farmed salmon are fed pellets containing a coloring agent manufactured by Swiss drug giant Hoffmann-La Roche to give them their rosy hue. Without the added coloring, farmed salmon would be gray because they do not consume the tiny marine organisms that turn wild salmon red naturally.

Roche said the artificial colors, astaxanthin and canthaxanthin, are basically the same compounds that wild salmon collect in their food while roaming the sea.

The additives "enhance the pigmentation" of farmed fish, said Keith Neer, Kroger's vice president of corporate food technology and regulatory compliance. "While the supplements do not affect the taste or nutritional value of the fish, we are modifying the product labels to share this information with our consumers."

Kroger said farm-raised salmon and trout sold at Fred Meyer and its other stores would carry the words "color added" on labels starting this week.

Class-action lawsuits filed against the grocery chains last week accuse them of fooling customers into paying more for the farmed salmon by not telling them the fish contains added color as the law requires. Gray salmon without the artificial color would have fetched far lower prices, the filings contend.

The lawsuits seek damages that attorneys suggest could reach into the tens of millions of dollars per chain.

The grocery stores would not say whether their move to label farmed salmon was related to the lawsuits.

More than half of the salmon sold in the United States is raised in floating farm pens, most off the coasts of Canada and Chile. Knoll Lowney, the Seattle attorney who filed the cases, said he has heard from many consumers who said they would not have bought salmon they knew was artificially colored.

He said the decision by the chains "to start labeling not only admits they haven't been labeling, it also shows that labeling is controlled centrally; thus the previous decision not to label was made centrally, too."

Michael Milstein
Stores Agree to Identify Artificially Colored Fish
The Oregonian, May 1, 2003

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