Chinese consumers fight back over controversial salmon labeling

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The Ministry of Agriculture made a ruling that rainbow trout can now officially be labeled as salmon. Despite nationwide criticism the rigid standards will be enacted as planned. Will authorities listen to consumer’s concerns?

Ten days after the new standards were introduced, sparking worldwide coverage and outrage, the Shanghai Consumer Council held an open debate on Tuesday in which industry leaders and businesses were urged to respect consumers’ right to know “about the products they consume” according to China Daily.

A two-hour debate with representatives from the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance, the authority that issued the new controversial guidelines, was held with lawyers and aquaculture academics.

“The intent of this debate is not to rewrite or revise the new guidelines, as we don’t have that role. But as a spokesman for consumers, we believe an open platform, including different viewpoints and interests for discussion, is the first step in bringing changes,” said Tang Jiansheng, secretary-general of the council. “From the heated discussion we are confident that improvements will emerge.”

Chen Lichun, deputy secretary-general of the Aquatic Alliance, said at the meeting that the new standards will be enacted as planned.

“The new standards are the result of thoughtful and solid study. The goal in introducing them is to regulate the market and guarantee food safety,” Chen said.

In May, SalmonBusiness reported that one-third of the salmon sold in China is in fact rainbow trout.

“The controversy over salmon labelling has gone from an academic discussion to a social and legal problem, as it may encourage restaurants and retailers to violate consumers’ right to know,” said Jiang Xian, a lawyer who participated in the debate.

The sale of salmon has been steadily increasing in China, luring outside producers and business’s hoping to break the potentially lucrative market. So far this year, China (including Hong Kong) purchased 16,454 tonnes of fresh salmon from Norway, an huge increase of 141 percent compared to the same period last year.

However, a lack of standards from within their own home grown produce is of huge concern to Chinese consumers. The publication reported that an online consumer survey involving more than 2000 people initiated by the consumer council in Shanghai found that more than 80 percent of the interviewees said mislabeling salmon is “turning white into black”, with 70 percent concerned that businesses would take advantage of the new standards to “cheat” them.