OLYMPIA (May 11, 2007) – Salmon feed shipped to nine treaty Indian tribes in western Washington was recalled voluntarily by the distributor out of concerns about melamine contamination.
None of the food sold to the tribes has tested positive for melamine, but the Vancouver, B.C.-based company, Skretting, is taking the precautionary measure of recalling it because low levels of the contaminant were found in related batches shipped to Oregon.
Tribes notified of the recall were Tulalip, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Nisqually, Suquamish, Jamestown, Lower Elwha, Makah and Quileute. Fifty Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries and 26 Oregon state hatcheries also were affected by the recall.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials do not believe humans are at risk from eating fish that ate feed containing melamine. Melamine does not remain in a fish’s system for long and likely is not present by the time it reaches the table.
Melamine was linked to dog and cat deaths in the United States after it was found in brands of pet food using wheat gluten from China. Wheat gluten is a minor component in fish food, said Bruce Stewart, senior fish pathologist for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC). It is added to fish feed to act as a binder for the food pellets.
The recall came a bit late for tribal hatcheries, Stewart said. Most of the feed in question was fed to hatchery fish that already have been released. The recalled feed, BioVita, is used as a starter food in tribal hatcheries. The feed did not appear to harm the health of fish reared in the hatchery.
“If there was a health impact to the fish, it was not something that was noticeable to us as we monitored those fish,” Stewart said.
Fish from Oregon and Washington hatcheries known to have eaten feed containing melamine probably won’t pose a health risk when they are harvested a few years from now.
“They were feeding it to small fish, weighing just a few ounces,” Stewart said. “When they come back in three to five years, they will be 10- to 20-pound fish. Even if there were melamine in their system, it would be diluted. The health impact to the fish, if any, would be minor.”
The FDA has not issued any restrictions on eating potentially contaminated fish. Skretting has received no complaints related to fish deaths or health problems. The company is working with the FDA and Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The FDA is carrying out a risk assessment on melamine contamination as it relates to both livestock and human health. Updates can be found at www.fda.gov.