By Arnaldo Pérez Guerra
The salmon farms are on the bench: without minimum environmental and sanitary safeguards, with extremely low labor standards, accused of using prohibited chemicals and toxins, among other irregularities. For the government and the aquaculture industry, what matters is to keep growing "at any cost".
The judge investigating the shipment of contaminated salmon to the Netherlands summoned authorities from the National Fisheries Service (Sernapesca) and representatives of Nutreco and AquaChile, companies that have already been sanctioned for the use of "malachite green." Chile banned this carcinogenic and mutagenic in 2002. The salmon companies of yore claim not to be responsible for the shipment held in Rotterdam, Holland, since last month. For businessmen, the lawsuit filed by environmental groups tries to discredit an industry "in full swing."
Luis Mariano Rendón (Acción Ecológica), sponsor of the lawsuit, says: "We are struck by the fact that they have hired a lawyer. The leaders of SalmonChile were summoned as witnesses. We think they could take part to cooperate in the identification of those who use carcinogenic products that damage ecosystems, but also cause significant damage to aquaculture. " Juan Carlos Cárdenas (Centro Ecocéanos) adds: "It is unpresentable and unjustifiable that a transnational like Nutreco, which is supposed to have the highest environmental and sanitary standards, is involved." The Dutch transnational Nutreco is the world's largest salmon producer. In Chile it leads the ranking of production and exports. AquaChile is in second place. 45% of Chilean salmon farms are controlled by transnationals, which represent 33.9% of exports.
More and more accusations
Environmentalists have demanded that the authorities hand over the names of the companies responsible for the cargo held in the Netherlands. The "malachite green" - mutagenic and carcinogenic - not only eliminates fungi and parasites from salmon eggs, but also phytoplankton and invertebrates. Salmon companies use it for economic reasons: its cost is 20 times less than that of other products. But it is not the only thing, millions of liters of antifouling paints are also used to impregnate the cage nets, and antibiotics.
Not long ago, Chilean salmon - "Robinson Crusoe" from Pesquera Trans Antartic- were withdrawn from markets in Miami and Florida (United States) and San Juan (Puerto Rico), due to "risk of intoxication", when they were found to be Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that generates a neurotoxin that can even cause death.
In March 2003, "malachite green" was found in England in shipments from Sociedad Jiménez y Gutiérrez y Cía. Ltda., And Multiexport. The salmon farms do not take minimum environmental and sanitary safeguards. The handling of these products is done without security elements. In addition, liquid waste is directly discharged into the environment.
In June, the Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported the extremely low labor standards of Norwegian salmon farms in Chile. The report shows what is happening in Mainstream (Cermaq), and questions the Norwegian ambassador Monna Brother. It recounts, among others, the story of a young woman who had an abortion "after working 11 hours a night, a single mother fired because of her disabled son, a father of three children who died due to poor security measures, a union leader harassed and illegally suspended. " It also exposes the ambassador's link with the pharmaceutical company Alpharma. Her husband, Asmund Baklien, manager of Alpharma-Chile, makes millions in business selling vaccines to salmon companies. "His potential customers are the companies that were to be investigated by his wife, the ambassador," Dagbladet says.
In June 2002, salmon farmers in Ireland and Scotland accused the Chilean companies of dumping. The investigation was lifted in February 2003. At the end of April, North American salmon companies asked the United States Department of Commerce to close another dumping investigation (1997) against 14 Chilean salmon companies for "selling at low cost and receiving subsidies." Chile could face new accusations, this time from Alaskan producers trying to protect the market for wild salmon, seriously threatened by farmed salmon. The Washington Post itself recently published that farmed salmon have high levels of PCBs - industrial insulator - banned for their carcinogenic effects.
Expand and grow
The Aysén and Magallanes canals, in the extreme south of Chile, are filling with crops. The salmon farms have requested more than 1,000,000 hectares to install their cages. With only 10,000 hectares, they would produce 300,000 tons per year, their goal for 2010. The expansion has prompted the search for new sites for concessions. The Coyhaique Chamber of Tourism is concerned about the installation of salmon farms in places destined for tourism, and even in nature reserves and national parks. "The Puyuhuapi, Quitralco and Chinconal hot springs have already been lost," they say. "The Isla Magdalena national park is in serious risk. Today is the turn of the Queulat fjord. The entire region is being threatened by the million hectares requested in concessions." Meanwhile, the President of the Republic, Ricardo Lagos, announced the National Aquaculture Policy (PNA) at the offices of PescaChile, a subsidiary of the Spanish transnational Pescanova, in Puerto Chacabuco, XI Region.
According to the government, the objective of the PNA is "to promote the highest possible level of economic growth in aquaculture over time, subject to conditions of environmental sustainability and equity in access to the activity." For the Ecocéanos Center, "the presentation of this policy, after 20 years of unregulated growth, is carried out within a framework of national and international criticism of the non-transparent behavior of the industry and the rejection of double environmental, labor and health standards that aquaculture transnationals apply in the country ".
The National Aquaculture Policy will regulate access to aquaculture activity, establishing incentive mechanisms, and regulating "access and use of aquaculture concessions, in order to streamline their sale, purchase, transfer or mortgage, streamlining investment procedures with in view of supporting the implementation of the second phase of expansion of the industry towards the regions of Aysén and Magallanes. " For the salmon industry, it is about growing at any cost.
Growth at any cost
Hugo Fazio, economist at the Alternative Development Center (Cenda), affirms: "Chilean salmon shipments multiplied by five between 1990 and 1999. Salmon farming is concentrated in Region X, with its next expansion to Region XI expected. The number of exporting companies has been systematically decreasing, mainly as a consequence of an accentuated process of mergers and takeovers. In 1999, ten companies accumulated 51.3% of exports ".
The Dutch transnational Nutreco leads the world in production and exports. Trouw, which he owns, is the leading producer of fish feed. Nutreco has investments in Norway, Canada, the United States, England, Italy and France, among some 18 countries. It has been in Chile since the late 1980s. In 1998, it acquired Salmones Caicaén S.A. and Congelados y Conservas Fitz Roy (Yaconi-Santa Cruz group) concessions. An example of "sectoral concentration", in 1999 it bought Marine Harvest -with a presence in Chile and Scotland-, and Biomaster, from the Iansa holding, belonging to the Spanish transnational Ebro.
Another company, Mainstream, controlled by the Eblen family, is a holding company under which Salmones Mainstream, Aquacultivos, Produal, Gentec and Salmones Llanquihue depend. Its expansion in salmon production was supported by the acquisitions of Aquacultivos and assets of Seafind, Aucar and Mardim. In 1995 the Eblen family joined Mainstream - created in 1982 by the Furman group - and took 70% control. The Norwegian transnational Cermaq - with a presence in Canada, Scotland and Chile - eventually bought the property.
Spain's PescaNova controls PescaChile and has crops in regions XI and XII. It has a fishing fleet but does not have the ISO 14,000 and 9,000 environmental certifications, like most of the companies operating in the sector.
Million dollar industry
In 2000, Multiexport was in third place in national exports, established in 1983 by José Ramón Gutiérrez, Martín Borda -ex minister of the dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte-, Alberto del Pedregal, Carlos Pucci and Hugo Pino. They created, in 1989, Salmones Multiexport, acquiring at the end of 1999, Chisal, from the holding company Córpora. Antarctic salmon appeared, in 1999, in sixth place. It is controlled by the Japanese transnational Nippon Suissan Kaisha. Aguas Claras, another of the 10 most important exporters, is controlled by businessman and senator Sebastián Piñera (RN), and the former Undersecretary of Fisheries of the Ricardo Lagos government, Daniel Albarrán.
At the end of 2001, Norwegian transnationals - the largest in the world in the salmon industry - began their expansion in the country. "In eleven years, production in Chile grew more than ten times, shortening the distance with Norway. That year, 36% of the sector was in the power of foreign capital, preferably Norwegian (15% of the total)", says Hugo Fazio. In addition to Norway, transnationals in the Netherlands, Spain, Japan and Canada control the sector. In 2000, Fjord Seafood ASA (Norway) bought Tecmar and Salmoamérica, becoming one of the top three exporters in Chile. Ewos acquired Mainstream. Norway's Stolt Sea Farm, a subsidiary of the transnational Stolt Nielsen, bought Eicosal.
The transnationals also do business in the production and sale of fish feed. In 2001 they sold 1.7 billion dollars, of which 550 million were contributed by the Chilean industry. The Dutch company Nutreco (Trow) and the Norwegian company Cermaq (Ewos) control about 80% of the world market.
Hugo Fazio points out: "three salmon farms based in Chile are among the ten largest in the world, according to 2000 figures: AquaChile (former Salmones Pacífico Sur) in sixth place; Camanchaca in ninth; and Multiexport in tenth. the 30 largest twelve are Chilean or have subsidiaries in the country. It is a production that moves more than 3,300 million dollars annually in the world. "
Alumysa or salmon?
The XI Region is one of the highest value and wealth from the environmental point of view in the country. The Canadian transnational Noranda Inc, owner of the Alumysa project, is among the largest mining companies in the world, with interests in areas such as energy, gas and oil production. Since 1976, Noranda has participated in the Collahuasi mine in Region II (Antofagasta).
According to Terram Foundation: "The megaproject will mean the largest foreign investment in the history of Chile placed at once: 2,750 million dollars. (…) 1,100,000 tons of inputs will be imported per year (alumina, calcined coke, fluorinated salts, cryolite , tar, diesels, liquefied gas and others) for the processes, both for the reduction of aluminum, and for the manufacture and recycling of anodes and cathodes. It will produce 440,000 tons of pure aluminum per year. (…) Aysén will absorb the not inconsiderable difference in 660,000 tons of waste per year ".
The salmon industry itself has criticized the environmental effects of the megaproject: "There are issues that concern us, such as the existence of other industries that slow our development. We believe it is necessary to have a legal framework that protects us from the arrival of projects such as, for example , Alumysa, which in environmental terms is incompatible with all the fishing and aquaculture activities that have traditionally been developed in the XI Region, "said Rodrigo Infante Varas, general manager of the Salmon Industry Association.
The salmon farms have interpreted as strong support - in the face of the latest questions about environmental problems and the Alumysa megaproject - that the President of the Republic, Ricardo Lagos, announced the National Aquaculture Policy (PNA) in one of the PescaChile plants, owned by the Spanish transnational PescaNova. "The support is for the transnationals", as stated by the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, which suggests that all Norwegian transnationals installed in Chile should be investigated.
Salmon farming versus environment
20 years ago salmon farming took its first steps. Currently, Chile is the second largest producer in the world, with projected returns of 1.2 billion dollars for this year. Salmon has become the fourth national export sector. In May 2003 alone, salmon shipped to the United States reached $ 213 million, while copper rose to $ 165 million. "Chilean salmon displaced copper as the first export product to the United States, in a historic event in the country's traditional foreign trade structure," said Rodrigo Infante Varas, of the Salmon Industry Association.
Chilean producers have partnered in SOTA (Salmon of the Americas), with those of the United States and Canada, to penetrate the North American market. Salmon farming has become a "strategic sector" that moves the economy of Region X (Los Lagos) while it is expanding rapidly through the XI (Aysén) and XII (Magallanes) regions. It is the main source of jobs and the largest export item: this year, the salmon industry will contribute 80% of exports from Region X, and represented 5.5% -in 2002-, of all that Chile exports . In Region X alone, it provides direct and indirect employment to more than 50,000 people, and some 200 local companies revolve around the activity. The salmon farmers intend to double their returns by 2010, with a view to becoming -in 2004/2005-, the world's leading producer. They project earnings of over 2,250 million dollars in the period (2003-2010).
Currently, Chile controls 35% of the world market, while Norway concentrates 37%. In 1992, our exports reached 265 million dollars. In 2002 it was 973 million dollars. An increase of 267%. In the same period, tons increased from 50,000 to 331,000: 562%. Markets are maintained: Japan, the United States and the European Union are the largest buyers.
But the "successful" industry is not without serious problems. In Rotterdam (Netherlands), 4 containers were detained due to the discovery of leukomalachite, a banned substance with carcinogenic effects, which can greatly undermine the projections of the sector. Authorities have described the event as "isolated", but it is the fourth time that a similar situation has occurred. Even a "rapid alert" or "health alert" is feared in European countries.
The disregard for environmental and labor measures by the salmon industry and the government has been documented by the press, environmental groups and researchers. The words of Sergio Mujica, director of the National Fisheries Service (Sernapesca), are decisive: "Although it is difficult to understand, health alerts are part of the rules of the commercial exchange game."
"Malachite green" has been banned in Chile since 1997, but is still used in the salmon industry; The same occurs with antibiotics and paints with carcinogenic and mutagenic effects. In November 2002 and March 2003, England initiated a "rapid alert" upon detecting the substance in Chilean shipments.
* Arnaldo Pérez Guerra Lic. in History from the University of Chile. Writer for the Chilean media Punto Final and El Siglo. Contributor to La Insignia (Spain), Prensa Latina and. [email protected]