Thanks to a history of product quality scandals, many consumers in China believe that higher-quality food is imported. So when state broadcaster CCTV aired a segment on salmon late last month, viewers were surprised to learn that a third of salmon purchases are domestically farmed.
The fish mentioned in the report are reared by Qinghai Minze, a freshwater fishery high on the Tibetan Plateau. But savvy viewers were soon pointing out that Qinghai Minze doesn’t actually produce salmon: it raises rainbow trout. Chinese consumers were annoyed, claiming that they were being sold their fish under false pretences.
Soon after, the China Fisheries Association (CFA) attempted to clarify the situation by explaining that “salmon” is used as a broader commercial designation. “Salmon can refer to Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon, rainbow trout and many other types of fish,” the message read.
This explanation might seem a little suspect, but the problem lies partially in translation. Both salmon and trout belong to the Salmonidae family and, in fact, Pacific salmon are closely related to rainbow trout.
According to the CFA, the Chinese word sanwenyu – which is a phonetic translation of the English word “salmon fish” – should actually be interpreted closer to the word Salmonidae (and thus includes the rainbow trout). However, for the majority of Chinese, sanwenyu means the salmon fish, not the broader family.
The two species look and taste similar, which is why people might not have noticed the difference. However, some netizens speculated that more nefarious practices were at work, alleging that suppliers were painting trout to make it look like salmon. Others thought that trout, because it is a freshwater fish, was more likely to be infested with parasites. This theory caused particular consternation because a lot of salmon is eaten raw as sashimi. Again, the CFA countered the claims, making clear that it is the cleanliness of the water rather than its salinity that determines whether there are parasites in the fish.
Luo Yunbo, a professor of food science at the China Agricultural University, then contradicted the CFA. “In principle, raw rainbow trout, as a kind of freshwater species, has a strong risk of getting infected with bacteria and parasites,” he told the Global Times. “The fishery from Qinghai has to provide convincing proof [of its quality] but obviously it failed to do so.”
The Global Times even quoted the professor as saying that the news of the fish mislabelling meant that he wouldn’t dare to eat salmon in restaurants anymore.
Online a number of citizens shared his sentiment, vowing to avoid all types of salmon from now on.
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