Sweden sells toxic Baltic salmon to EU: report

Sweden is exporting hundreds of tonnes of potentially dangerous Baltic Sea salmon to EU neighbours, a new report has revealed.

Sweden sells toxic Baltic salmon to EU: report

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.”

TT/The Local/at

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Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU’s minimum wage plan?

EU labour ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the European Commission's planned minimum wage directive. Why is the proposal causing such unease in Sweden?

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU's minimum wage plan?
Customers visit a branch of McDonalds in Stockholm. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

What’s happening on Monday? 

EU ministers responsible for employment and social affairs, including Sweden’s Eva Nordmark, will meet in Brussels for a two day meeting at which they hope to adopt a European Council position on a directive imposing “adequate minimum wages” on all EU countries. Once the Council, which represents member states, has agreed a common position, it will begin negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

What’s Sweden’s position on the minimum wage directive? 

Sweden has been, along with Denmark, one of the most vocal opponents of the directive, arguing that it threatens the country’s collective bargaining model, in which unions and employers set wages without government interference. 

But on Friday, the government dropped its opposition, together with country’s umbrella union, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, arguing that a compromise proposal put forward by the European Commission would protect Sweden’s wage autonomy. 

A majority of the members of the Swedish parliament’s employment committee are backing the government’s new stance, but three opposition parties, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats, are opposed to the change in position. 

“I am extremely happy that there is broad support and majority backing for us to continue with the negotiations, to stand up for what we have come to so far, and do everything we can to protect the Swedish wage-setting model,” Sweden’s employment minister Eva Nordmark (S) said after a meeting with the employment committee on Friday. 

READ ALSO: Why Sweden doesn’t have a minimum wage and how to ensure you’re fairly paid

Why did Sweden make its dramatic last-minute u-turn? 

Sweden’s government judges that, after the compromise, the directive will no longer mean that Sweden is forced to bring in a statutory minimum wage. 

“I consider, together with experts in the civil service and experts in the unions and employer organisations, that there is no requirement for Sweden to bring in a statutory minimum wage,” Nordmark told TT. 

She added that agreeing to sign up to the directive would give Sweden the ability to take a deeper part in the negotiations giving it the power to make sure that important exceptions are made for Sweden. 

Denmark, however, is still resolved to say ‘no’ to the directive. 

Surely a minimum wage is a good thing? Isn’t Sweden supposed to be a high-wage economy? 

Sweden is certainly a high-wage economy, but that is largely thanks to its model of collective bargaining, under which wages are generally set by negotiations between employees and employers for each sector. 

If the directive sets a precedent allowing governments, either at a national or EU level, to interfere in this process, or for those who disagree with the result of the collective bargaining agreement to appeal to government entities, it could undermine the Swedish system. 

Who is still worried? 

More or less everyone. While the Swedish Trade Union Confederation is supporting the government’s decision, its vice chair Therese Guovelin, described the European Commission’s compromise proposal as simply “the least bad compromise proposal” the union had seen.

She has previously described the European Parliament’s position that the directive should apply to the entire European Union as “a catastrophe”.

“That would mean that a disgruntled employee who is not part of the union, could take their case to court, and would then end up at the EU Court, and it would then be them who would decide on what should be a reasonable salary,” she explained. “In Sweden, it’s the parties [unions and employers’ organisations] that decide on that.”

Tobias Billström, group leader for the Moderate Party, said he was concerned at the role of the European Court in the directive. 

“There are big risks with this,” he told TT. “The EU court might decide to interpret this directive as applying across the board, and then we might end up with what we wanted to avoid. The Moderates have as a result been against this development, and it’s important that Sweden gets to decide itself on the Swedish labour market.”

What might happen now? 

The European Parliament might try to remove the wording and the exemptions which Sweden hopes will allow its employers and unions to retain control of wage-setting. 

Mattias Dahl, chief executive of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents employers’ groups, said that the government needed to stand its ground in the upcoming negotiations, reiterating that he would have preferred that the European Commission had not sought to give itself such a role in the Labour Market.  

Nordmark said that Sweden did not intend to back down to the parliament. 

“These are important red lines for us. If there are demands from the European Parliament that push in a different direction, we can lean on the Swedish opinion and what we stand for,” she said.