Rainbow trout is salmon, China’s fishery organization insists, despite backlash

Society & Culture

Rainbow trout is clearly not salmon, according to science. But the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA) — the government-backed association that claimed the two species are the same in its new industry standards issued earlier this month — is obviously not here for scientific consensus. It almost seems like its primary concern is boosting its members’ profits by scamming customers.

In China, rainbow trout is now salmon?

About two weeks ago, the organization faced intense criticism from Chinese consumers due to its statement equating rainbow trout with salmon — which was widely interpreted as a move to legitimize the practice of mislabeling rainbow trout as salmon to trick buyers into paying the premium price of salmon for less expensive rainbow trout. Consumers raised their voices to protest the deliberate mislabeling and question the health effects of potentially eating raw rainbow trout.

Despite the fierce backlash, in a public hearing held by Shanghai’s consumers’ association on August 21, the fishery organization opted to stand firm on its previous statement, insisting that rainbow trout is indeed salmon and is safe for raw consumption.

As The Paper reports (in Chinese), the three-hour-long meeting was attended by professors, lawyers, representatives from CAPPMA, citizens, and media. The hearing centered on a host of issues regarding the new standards.

The main subject for discussion was the relation between salmon and rainbow trout. On one side, experts and lawyers were strongly opposed to the redefinition. Chen Shunsheng 陈舜胜, a professor at Shanghai Ocean University, said that since the term “salmon” was first introduced to China, it has always been referring to Salmo salar, or Atlantic salmon. Probably realizing it’s impossible to argue with CAPPMA on the grounds of scientific evidence, lawyer Jiang Xian 江宪 was more straightforward, saying that the salmon debate is nothing but some unscrupulous businesses trying to mislead consumers.

On the other side, in defense of the rulings, people from CAPPMA claimed that “salmon” is not a scientific name but “a versatile concept defined by its users,” adding that “the association is unable to judge if the usage is right or not.” Instead, its objective is to “put all kinds of fish sold as salmon in the market under a collective name and tell consumers what they will possibly get if they purchase something labeled as salmon.”

In response to widespread concerns that eating raw rainbow trout poses a serious health risk associated with parasites, Zheng Weizhong 郑维中, a member of CAPPMA and CEO of a biotech company, said, with absolutely no evidence, that the worries are unfounded. “Seawater and freshwater are equally dangerous. People think freshwater fish are more dangerous because we see them more often,” he said. Zheng’s argument was quickly quashed by Chen, who cited some scientific studies to prove that fish raised in freshwater are much more vulnerable to parasitic worms than seawater fish, which can cause serious damage to a person’s health if eaten raw.

When asked if the association ever considered revising its standards after the uproar, Chen Lichun 陈丽纯, deputy secretary general of CAPPMA, said its stance on the debate is unwavering.

It’s wild that this question is even being debated. What is clear from the public hearing is that the salmon discussion will continue to polarize, with CAPPMA pretty much alone on the wrong side of the fight. And as the battle rages on, Chinese consumers will only be more cautious about what they get when they order or purchase what’s labeled as salmon. Below are a selection of social media comments (in Chinese) in reaction to the news:

salmon weibo“Sodium nitrate is a kind of salt. I’d like to buy a ton of it for the experts’ families to eat.”

salmon weibo 2“I suggest a control experiment where members of this association eat (raw rainbow trout) for a year first!”

salmon weibo 3“This is by no means a scientific discussion. It’s a debate between people who have shame and those who don’t.”

salmon debate 4“I challenge you to publish a paper about this in an academic journal.”

salmon debate 5“Cherish your life and stay away from domestic salmon.”