SANTIAGO – Last week, Chile’s Supreme Court rejected a complaint appeal filed by the salmon farming industry against the ministers of the Court of Appeals, aiming to revoke the sentence that ordered the National Fisheries Service (S/ Sernapesca) to publish information of the industry’s use of antibiotics per company in 2014; information that had been requested by Oceana.
In the ruling, the highest court dismissed any serious fault or abuse conducted by the ministers, confirming what was stated by the Court of Appeals, which rejected the business secrecy hypothesis backed by the trade union by stating that “this information should be made known to the public in view of the importance of the salmon industry for human consumption”.
The Executive Director of Oceana Chile, Liesbeth van der Meer celebrated the ruling, stating that despite the legal loopholes used by salmon farmers to prevent the people from knowing about a key public health and environmental issue. “In the end, the highest court proved us right,” she added.
In late May 2016, the Court of Appeals accepted the complaint made by Oceana and ordered Sernapesca to disclose the information that was requested, after 37 salmon farming companies, and then the Council for Transparency, refused to provide it. At the time, the court dismissed that commercial competitiveness was being affected, strongly claiming “it should be noted that the Council for Transparency chooses to maintain certain niches of secrecy in a system in which the general rule is publicity and secrecy is the exception”.
The court also highlighted the importance of social control, meaning “citizens should be able to know how the species they buy and consume are being produced”. In addition, it claims that “the information requested [by Oceana] seriously compromises public interest and therefore, its disclosure should prevail over the interests of the businesses that refuse to release it”.
“This is a victory for transparency and consumers. From now on, all salmon-farming businesses need to publicly and separately report their use of antibiotics so that we don’t have to wait years to find out”, said van der Meer. “Efficient and effective measures need to be taken to finally and substantially reduce the industry’s use of antibiotics in their production processes,” she added.
In another Supreme Court ruling, a complaint appeal filed by the salmon industry was accepted, regarding another request for information made by Oceana on the use of antibiotics from 2009 to 2013. In this case, the court considered that the information being requested was in fact strategic to each company, even though the Court of Appeals had dismissed this argument, stating that “it is not sensitive information in terms of affecting the commercial or economic activity of the companies that have refused to provide it”.
“We hope that the Supreme Court’s ruling, which demands disclosure of the use of antibiotics becomes an incentive to improve access to public information as well as the supervision of businesses, in pursuit of strengthening democracy,” stated van der Meer.
“The information that the industry will have to reveal will demonstrate that the purpose of not disclosing it is related to hiding the excessive use of antibiotics, rather than protecting confidential information,” she concluded.
According to the “2016 Report on the use of Antimicrobians in the National Salmon Farming Industry”, Chilean companies used 382,500 kilos to produce 727,812 tons of salmon, while Norway used 523 kilos to produce twice as much salmon, as stated by the latest data available for this European country.
The proceedings were handled by Oceana’s lawyer, Javiera Calisto and lawyer Diego Balart.