For the first time, Canada’s food safety regulator is allowing Nova Scotia salmon infected with a flu-like virus to be processed for supermarkets and restaurants.
Last week the Canadian Food Inspection Agency declared fit for human consumption 240,000 Atlantic salmon with infectious salmon anemia — a disease it says poses no risk to human heath. The ruling is the first time the CFIA has opted not to destroy fish carrying the virus since it started regulating the fish farming industry in 2005.
Because the U.S. won’t import fish with the virus, the fresh whole salmon, fillets and steaks will have to find dinner plates to land on somewhere in Canada.
At least one supermarket chain here says it will not stock the infected fish.
Alexandra Morton, a marine biologist, says infectious salmon anemia is an influenza-type virus and can mutate in unpredictable ways, especially if it comes into contact with another flu virus in a human being.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to be eating it,” said Morton, who has worked as a government fisheries scientist and was a visiting lecturer at Dalhousie University last year. “We know that pathogens are becoming more virulent all the time and it’s events like this that I believe really risk human health safety.”
On its website, the CFIA describes how the virus can kill up to 90 per cent of infected salmon, causing them to slow their swimming, lose their appetite and gasp at the surface. Infected fish may have grey gills, a swollen abdomen and areas of bleeding along their belly and sides.
“Infectious salmon anemia poses no human health or food safety risk, and there is strong scientific proof of this,” the agency wrote in an email to the Star.
In 2010, a team from the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University published a study on the virus and concluded it poses no threat to humans because it is deactivated at our body temperature.