'Wild' salmon sold at Wrights was farmed, court told

 

MORE THAN 20 packets of smoked salmon labelled as “wild” and offered for sale at a branch of Wrights of Howth at Dublin airport in fact contained farmed salmon, a court was told yesterday.

Dublin District Court is hearing a case brought by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland against Wrights of Howth, Galway Ltd and two of its directors who are charged with offering for sale salmon labelled “Irish smoked wild salmon” which “was in fact farmed”.

Prosecuting counsel Paul Anthony McDermott told the court yesterday he would prove beyond reasonable doubt that the smoked salmon labelled “wild” had come from farmed salmon.

Eoghan Cole, for Wrights of Howth, said his case would be that unless the FSAI could prove the salmon had not been caught in open seas, even if it had spent some time in a fish farm, his clients should be acquitted.

Judge Ann Watkin told Mr McDermott he had to prove “beyond reasonable doubt these fish at no time were caught in the sea” and said the Food Safety Act, 1998, put the onus of proof on the FSAI to establish the fish spent all their lives in a fish farm, rather than the onus being on the retailer to prove they hadn’t spent any of their time in a farm.

She said the implication of the legislation was that fish bred in a farm could escape into the sea and, having been caught there, could be deemed “wild”.

Pat Farrell, audit and compliance manager with the FSAI, said he and a colleague had visited a branch of Wrights of Howth on Pier C at Dublin airport duty free on April 4th, 2007 and randomly took 24 packets of smoked salmon that were labelled “Irish smoked wild salmon”.

They took three samples from each packet, leaving one with the retailer, sending one to a veterinary testing laboratory in Dublin and retaining the third sample from each for the FSAI.

The testing laboratory sent the samples on to University College Cork, where DNA samples were taken.

Mr Farrell’s colleague, Donal Cousins, told the court the authority received a report from UCC on May 28th, 2007. It concluded the salmon was not wild but said its findings were not conclusive.

The authority decided a prosecution could not be brought.

Further tests were conducted by UCC on the third samples, and the results published in June 2008. “Once we had that published report we absolutely felt there was a case,” said Mr Cousins.

During the course of yesterday’s hearing there were several heated exchanges between Mr McDermott and Judge Watkin.

Mr McDermott said he did not believe the judge had “any intention of considering the evidence fairly”.

Submitting that she implied he was not competent to run his case, he repeated comments she had made to the court while he was examining Mr Farrell, that “we are not getting anywhere”.

“I must indicate my concern about comments the court has made,” he said. He later said Judge Watkin was bombarding Mr Cousins with questions and said he was being prevented from asking questions of the witness.

“He’s my witness and the witness is being bombarded with questions and halfway through his answers the court comes back to earlier issues. It’s fair to say I am losing all control of my witness,” he said.

Judge Watkin said she was doing “all within [her] power to hear the evidence fairly” but said she had to interrupt for reasons of clarity and to prevent hearsay evidence being introduced.

“To say I will not hear evidence fairly is absolutely unfounded.” There was nothing personal in her comments, she said.

The case continues today.