SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Supermarket retailers must face consumer lawsuits alleging that they failed to notify shoppers that farm-raised salmon is artificially colored through feed additives, the California Supreme Court ruled last week.
The decision unanimously overturned two lower court rulings that had dismissed the deceptive-marketing lawsuits, which first surfaced in 2003. Those rulings sided with grocers, who argued that federal law does not require companies to disclose what farmed fish are fed, and that U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeling rules precluded any lawsuits based on state claims.
The flesh of wild caught salmon gets its dark red hue through a compound called astaxanthin, which is present in most ocean crustaceans, such as shrimp, that wild salmon eat. A powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin is also used as an FDA-approved feed additive in most farmed salmon operations to give the fish a brighter, more appealing color.
Seven different cases over the issue — all essentially arguing that the use of feed additives should be clearly labeled on packaging — were consolidated into the latest suit, which names Albertsons, Safeway, Kroger, Trader Joe's, Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods Market, Bristol Farms and Ocean Beauty Seafoods.
The defendants have said they may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.