Since 2002, Swedish authorities are required by law to inform consumers about dangerous dioxins found in salmon. Exporting Baltic Sea salmon to other EU member states was also banned at the time.
Yet an episode of Sveriges Television’s (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag granskning set to air on Wednesday night reveals that the salmon is still being shipped out to EU consumers.
When sold across Europe, health authorities in the recipient countries are not required to publish information about how much of the fish a consumer can eat without potential health implications.
“The difference when compared to the horse-meat scandal is that this fish has long-term effects on people’s health, which makes it a serious issue,” Pontus Elvingsson, at the National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket), told SVT.
The 2002 laws came about after the EU introduced rules on how much dioxin is permissible in different foods. Dioxins have been linked to cancer, and research shows the toxin may affect human reproduction. The EU, however, issued an exemption to Sweden as long as its authorities made an effort to inform the public about potential health risks.
One such guideline was to warn pregnant woman and children from eating Baltic Sea salmon more than twice or three times a year.
Yet while restrictions are in place, fishermen have continued to pull up bountiful catches of salmon from the Baltic Sea. In 2012, an estimated 250 tonnes of salmon was fished in Sweden alone, prompting SVT reporters to ask where the surplus was ending up after Swedish consumers had had their share.
SVT found that two Swedish whole-sellers had been reported to the authorities and that a stash of invoices proved that the salmon was being illegally exported to France and Denmark. The supply chain from there meant the fish would likely end up across the continent, both in supermarket aisles and on restaurant plates.
Wednesday’s television show is set to air an interview with an employee at one of the two Swedish firms that have now been reported to the authorities. The man said the company had discussed whether the exporting was legal or not.
“But management said we’d keep selling and run the risk,” the man reportedly told SVT.
While a representative from one of their French buyers said the company ordered tests on the fish it brought in to France, Elvingsson at the Swedish National Food Agency said thorough analyses were both costly and time consuming, making him doubt the French claim.
“It sounds highly improbable,” he told SVT.
It is not the first time suspicions of illegal exports have been raised with the authorities. Two years ago, the Association of Leisure Fishers (Sportfiskarna) reported that a large catch of Baltic Sea salmon had been sold at auction in Gothenburg.
Secretary-General Stefan Nyström on Wednesday said the association’s information had not been dealt with properly at the time.
“We raised the alarm with the Rural Affairs Ministry, the National Food Agency and with the municipality, but they brushed it off,” Nyström said.
“Now we’re talking about gigantic volumes of fish that is dangerous to eat. Dioxin isn’t something to take lightly, it’s one of the most dangerous poisons.”