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MADISON, Wis. - Two men who say they were deceived into thinking they were buying wild salmon when they were really getting farm-raised fish have filed separate but similar lawsuits in Dane County Circuit Court, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.
The suits, which were filed last week against Supervalu (parent company of Cub Foods), Copps, and Wal-Mart (Sam's Club), claim the companies used unfair and illegal practices by selling farm-raised fish that have been fed artificial coloring canthaxanthin and astaxanthin to make them look like the more expensive wild salmon.
Under state and federal laws, grocery stores have to label salmon that's artificially colored, and Cub, Copps, and Sam's Club have not done so, according to the plaintiffs, Miguel Gallego and Daniel Katz.
"By concealing that the salmon they sell has been artificially colored, (the) defendants mislead consumers into believing that the mislabeled fish is wild rather than farm-raised. Additionally, this failure to label induces consumers to buy more fish and pay more for fish than they otherwise would," say the complaints filed by attorney David Bender of Madison's Porter, Jablonski & Associates, who represents both plaintiffs.
The suits maintain that consumers "associate pale and farm-raised salmon with lower quality and often with health risk," but it makes no claim of injury to health.
Copps officials issued a statement saying Copps "is committed to providing its customers with the highest-quality and most wholesome foods available.
"Some of the fresh fish we sell is farm-raised. The farmers who raise these fish may use feed that enhances the fish's color. That feed is approved by all applicable regulatory agencies and is safe for consumers." The statement adds that Copps is "reviewing our labeling policies in this regard."
Wild salmon normally costs several dollars per pound more than farm-raised, but can be even more expensive.
According to Linda Candler, v.p.of communications at the National Fisheries Institute in Arlington, Va., the carotenoids fed to farm-raised salmon are the same as those wild salmon get by eating shrimp-consuming fish.
"Carotenoids occur naturally; they’ve been used in our foods for many, many decades," Candler said. They're fed to chickens to make their egg yolks more yellow and are found in food such as tomatoes, she added.
Candler said the Dane County lawsuits are part of an organized effort. "There's an organization behind this campaign," she said. "The goal is to cause economic harm to salmon farmers and to outlaw the practice."
Last year a similar lawsuit was filed in Seattle against the Albertsons, Safeway, and Kroger grocery chains, claiming deception, unfair business practices, and negligent misrepresentation. Although the suit was dismissed six months later, several grocery began labeling the products as "artificially colored" or "color added."
The local complaints ask for double damages for the plaintiffs and any other consumers who have been misled into buying what they thought was wild salmon from the three chain stores over the past three years, but they don't specify a dollar amount.
They also ask for an order requiring the store chains to "disgorge all gross revenues earned in Wisconsin through the sale of farm-raised, artificially colored salmon and other fish, when such artificially colored fish was not adequately labeled."
No hearing date has yet been scheduled for the suits.