On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals of Santiago accepted the claim submitted by marine conservation organization Oceana, and ordered the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service of Chile (Sernapesca) to publish the information –disaggregated by company– requested by Oceana, concerning antibiotic use by the salmon industry in Chile in 2014. This claim was filed after 37 companies, and subsequently Sernapesca and the Council for Transparency, refused to disclose such data on the grounds of “competitive and business risk” for the companies. The Court’s ruling qualifies as “illegal” the prior resolution issued by the Council for Transparency.
“We welcome this extensive 38-page resolution whereby the Court of Appeals questions the inexplicable determinations by the Council for Transparency, Sernapesca and 37 salmon farming companies to refuse to disclose public interest information such as the amount of antibiotics used by each company, even though six companies agreed to the request. We expect for this categorical ruling to set a precedent, that salmon farms comply with it and that once and for all, the use of antibiotics in Chilean salmon farming can be made transparent”, said Liesbeth van der Meer, interim executive director of Oceana.
The resolution by the Court of Appeals states that “this Court cannot but notice the fact that the Council for Transparency decides to keep certain secret niches within a system where publicity is the rule and secrecy the exception; and this regarding certain data of the companies of the said industry –which are under the control of state agencies to which they should submit all such data and background information required for their adequate enforcement– particularly considering that these companies produce fish for human consumption, upon which not only the aforementioned control is required –specifically by Sernapesca– but also, as valid and as relevant, social control, so that citizens are able to know how the species they purchase and consume have been produced.”
Furthermore, the ruling states that “the information required [by Oceana] strongly compromises public interest and therefore, its disclosure should prevail over any other interest by companies refusing such disclosure.”
This ruling follows the information request made in 2015 by Oceana concerning disaggregated data on antimicrobials used by salmon farms in 2014.
There is a simultaneous constitutional unenforceability requirement filed before the Constitutional Court filed by Multiexport and other 22 salmon companies aimed at preventing the disclosure of information on antibiotic use broken-down by company between 2009 and 2013.
This battle began in July 2014 when Oceana submitted a complaint before the Council for Transparency, after Sernapesca refused to reveal the amount and type of antibiotics used by 58 salmon farms operating in Chile. This, following the resistance by 50 salmon farms on the grounds that they would face “competitive and business risk” if they disclosed the required information. At the time, the Council for Transparency also ruled to the benefit of the salmon companies, stating that Sernapesca was not required to disclose disaggregated figures except in special cases.
Subsequently, the Court of Appeals of Santiago accepted the claim filed by Oceana; however, Multiexport submitted a constitutional unenforceability complaint which has still not been addressed by the Constitutional Court.
“We expect this ruling to become a precedent for the other ongoing proceeding. We make a call to the Constitutional Court to reject the unenforceability requirement filed by the salmon farms, putting an end to this lack of transparency and giving citizens something as basic as access to public interest information directly related to health and the environment,” concluded van der Meer.