Letter to The Economist: The dangers of misreporting science

Friday, September 8, 2017

Response to ‘Antibiotic resistance in fish farms is passed on from fish food’ Sept 7th, 2017

Written by IFFO's Andrew Mallison, Director General


The dangers of misreporting science

Your article makes very sweeping generalisations based on scientific paper that reports on a very small sample size. The authors’ eagerness to attack the fish farming and fishmeal industry has unfortunately caused a lack of perspective and critical appraisal of the facts. While antibiotic resistance is a real concern, the findings in the paper by Wang et al need further investigation, not least of all due to the reported presence of several antibiotics in fishmeal made from whole wild fish that would not have come into contact with antibiotics at any stage. Fishmeal samples are named as being from various countries of origin but were purchased locally in China with no guarantee of their purity or integrity. Given reports of adulteration of imported fishmeal in China, this is clearly a concern.

Only five samples of fishmeal were taken, with no control sample for comparison from elsewhere in the marine environment, an environment also impacted by human populations and agriculture.

The majority of fishmeal is made from small species of wild caught, whole fish for which there is no human consumption market. While trimmings, offcuts and byproducts from fish processing are recycled into fishmeal, much of this material is also from wild caught fish so would also not come into contact with antibiotics. The remaining portion of byproducts from farmed fish could conceivably have had some contact with antibiotics but their use is strictly controlled and, as fish health management and vaccines improve, is reducing over time with some farming areas now antibiotic free for many years.

There is good evidence to suggest that the use of fishmeal in fish feed is actually therapeutic, contributing to better gut health and immune systems, making farmed fish less likely to need treatment with antibiotics.

To write an opinion about a 5 million tonnes a year global fishmeal industry that is making a significant contribution to global nutrition, we would urge seeking more evidence than this one study.   

For more information, please see our detailed response to the study here.