Chile court orders salmon farms antibiotic use be disclosed

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean appeals court has ordered the government’s Sernapesca fisheries body to disclose the details of antibiotic use by salmon producers operating in the country, court documents showed on Wednesday.

Salmon farmers in Chile, the world’s second-largest producer of the fish, are using record levels of antibiotics to treat a virulent and pervasive bacteria, driving away some U.S. retailers.

The court upheld a claim filed by the Oceana environmental group after 37 salmon producers, and subsequently Sernapesca and Chile’s transparency council, refused to disclose the details of antibiotic use in 2014 on the grounds that doing so would pose a “competition and commercial risk” for the companies.

The ruling requires Sernapesca to disaggregate the antibiotics use by company for 2014.

“We expect this unequivocal ruling to set a precedent, that salmon farms comply with it, and that once and for all the use of antibiotics in Chilean salmon farming can be made transparent,” said Liesbeth van der Meer, interim executive director of Oceana’s Chile office.

The coastal waters of Chile are awash with a bacteria known as SRS, or Piscirickettsiosis. The bacteria causes lesions and hemorrhaging in infected fish, and swells their kidneys and spleens, eventually killing them.

Unable to develop an effective vaccine, Chilean farmers have been forced to increase antibiotic use. In 2014, the industry produced around 895,000 tonnes of fish and used 563,200 kilograms (1.2 million pounds) of antibiotics, according to government and industry data. Antibiotic use had risen 25 percent from 2013.

Sernapesca said that it “valued” the ruling, which “goes in the right direction regarding the transparency with which this industry should operate.”

Farmed-salmon producers operating in Chile include Marine Harvest, Australis Seafoods, Compania Pesquera Camanchaca, Blumar, Multiexport Foods, Cermaq Group AS and Empresas AquaChile.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Alan Crosby