Is rainbow trout the same as salmon? China says yes despite food safety fears

Authorities reclassify the fish in a bid to allay consumers’ concerns – citing Wikipedia as a source – but industry watchers say the move is motivated by profit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2018, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 9:24pm

The Chinese government has responded to consumer fears about food safety by expanding its official definition of what can be classified as salmon to include rainbow trout.

The move comes months after a state media investigation found fisheries were passing off rainbow trout as “imported salmon”.

Backlash after state media reveals ‘imported’ salmon in China is rainbow trout farmed in Qinghai

But the new industry standard has caused controversy, with consumers continuing to express concern that the freshwater trout may have parasites that do not occur in the seawater species colloquially known as salmon.

The topic “rainbow trout is now salmon” went viral on Sina Weibo, with more than 35 million views as of Wednesday afternoon on the Twitter-like platform in China.

“This move has really just killed salmon,” one user wrote. “Who will dare to eat salmon sashimi in the future?” Another wrote: “I will never eat salmon again.”

The announcement by the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA), overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, cited the Wikipedia definition of “salmon” as justification for the new industry standard, and also sought to allay fears about parasites by noting all raw salmon must meet certain processing safety requirements.

The move follows revelations in May by state broadcaster CCTV that one-third of the fish sold by one of the largest salmon farms in China’s northwestern Qinghai province was actually trout.

Rainbow trout cannot be eaten as sashimi because it needs to be fully cooked. The parasite can live in the human liver and cause liver damage
Aquatic Ecology Professor Kenneth Leung

“The current lack of standards has caused unnecessary disagreements and concerns about safety that have adversely affected the industry and market,” a notice republished on the Qinghai provincial government website over the weekend said.

“This standard will be very significant for regulating the industry, helping to ensure product quality, consumer rights, and the healthy development of the salmon industry.”

Thirteen fisheries were covered in the CAPPMA announcement, including Longyangxia Reservoir, the salmon production farm at the centre of the CCTV investigation.

The China Fisheries Association had previously responded to the consumer backlash with a statement that rainbow trout was considered to be salmon, along with Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon.

At the height of the controversy, state media ran reports slamming the misrepresentation of trout as salmon as a way for sellers to raise their profit margins.

“It is ridiculous that the fake salmon dealers are still selling the rainbow trout as salmon at high prices,” an editorial from Beijing Youth Daily said. “They defend themselves by saying ‘fresh water salmon’ tastes the same and experience shows it is safe to eat raw, despite the parasites in rainbow trout making it dangerous to eat uncooked.”

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Kenneth Leung, professor of aquatic ecology and toxicology at the University of Hong Kong, said that while salmon and trout fell under the same scientific salmonid family, rainbow trout lived only in freshwater and could be contaminated with parasites such as flukes.

“Rainbow trout cannot be eaten as sashimi because it needs to be fully cooked,” he said. “The parasite can live in the human liver and cause liver damage.”

The decision to label rainbow trout as salmon was clearly a business one, he said, so that fish sellers could have the lion’s share of the market by selling trout as a high-value salmon product.

“People don’t know the difference,” he said. “The colour [of rainbow trout] looks like salmon, and people may be misled.”

China has had several food safety scares in recent years, most notably its 2008 milk scandal, where tens of thousands of babies were hospitalised or otherwise affected by melamine-tainted infant formula.