Environmental experts have warned about the unsustainability of fish farms for over a decade, yet nothing has been done to address such concerns. This is an important issue for me as I consume most of my protein as salmon. I purchase mine from Vital Choice, which is certified wild caught from Alaska.
Most people don’t realize seafood labeled as ‘Alaskan’ cannot be farmed. Alaska is incredible at protecting their brand when it comes to seafood, and do an excellent job to ensure quality and sustainability. If you don’t see the ‘Alaska’ label or a logo from the Marine Stewardship Council – the seafood you are buying is likely farmed.
Instead of addressing these issues, government agencies and environmental organizations around the world have consistently chosen to ignore predictions of disaster, both to the environment and human health, to protect instead the profitability of this burgeoning industry.
Biologist Alexandra Morton, featured in the documentary film Salmon Confidential, has posted a number of recent developments with regards to farmed salmon and human health on her blog.1
During the first two weeks of June, reports of farmed salmon toxicity spread through Norwegian news, and on June 16, the Norwegian Health Department actually went on the record warning against eating too much farmed salmon:2
“We have reviewed the Scientific Committee report again and looked at the recommendations that were there and how this was discussed in the report of the National Nutrition Council in 2011.
There, they discussed all research related to toxicology and health effects thoroughly, and we have based our evaluations on their report. They did not provide this clarification. Now we see that there is a need for clarifications to pregnant women and young women.”
The new, official recommendation to Norwegian women of childbearing age or who are pregnant is to limit consumption of fatty fish such as salmon to a maximum of two such meals per week.
Farmed Salmon—An Environmental and Nutritional Nightmare
Alexandra Morton was one of the first biologists to discover that wild salmon in British Columbia were testing positive for dangerous European salmon viruses associated with salmon farming worldwide—a finding that the Canadian government has since fought to suppress.
The revelations of health hazards discussed in the Norwegian media came as a surprise even to her, seeing how Norway is the “motherland” of salmon farming; the entire industry originating from Norsk Hydro, which is the country’s largest public company.
“The salmon feedlot industry in British Columbia is 98 percent Norwegian-owned, and one of the companies is largely owned by the Norwegian government itself, Cermaq,” Morton explains.
On June 19, media reports stated that “Russia fears that Norwegian salmon is unsafe and is critical of Norwegian food security.”
And the Norwegian National TV2’s website recently reported that the country’s four major grocery chains are threatening to ban farmed salmon from their stores unless the farmed salmon industry agrees to “change their production to closed pens and guarantees that the fish are safe to eat.” According to TV2:
“Norwegians spend 130 Billions [Norwegian] kroners each year on food. Four big food chain stores: Rema 1000, ICA. Norgesgruppen and Coop, more or less control most of the food retail market. According to ICA’s managing director, it gives them the power to make demands to their suppliers for ICA in Norway, Sweden, and The Netherlands…
ICA demands that the salmon farming industry becomes environmentally sustainable within three years. Prototypes of closed, recirculated fish farms have been developed, but the fish farming industry has shown very little interest in investing in these.”
In response to these threats, the Environmental Association in Bergen, which is leading the campaign for sustainable fish farming, received a letter from a law firm hired by the national fish farming industry (FHL), threatening to sue the organization for urging the food chains to stop selling farmed fish…
Why Farmed Salmon May Be Hazardous to Your Health
As explained by Morton in the video above, Dr. Anne-Lise Birch Monsen at the University of Bergen, Norway, has raised serious concerns about high levels of contaminants in farm-raised salmon. The contaminants in question originate in wild salmon, courtesy of environmental pollution. These toxic contaminants bind to the fat molecules in wild fish, and when these fish are ground up for use in fish meal together with added high-fat fish oils, these molecules can enter your body where they bind to your cells.
While this can certainly cause health problems for you, it can also pose a very serious threat to the health of your unborn children. As explained by Morton, when you give birth, your body dumps up to 90 percent of the accumulated toxins in your body into the body of your first-born child. More toxins are later expelled through your breast milk. This is why it’s so critical to avoid toxic exposures throughout childhood and early adulthood, to prevent damage to future generations as well as your own life cycle…
According to Dr. Monsen:3
“I do not recommend pregnant women, children or young people eat farmed salmon. It is uncertain in both the amount of toxins salmon contain, and how these drugs affect children, adolescents and pregnant women… The type of contaminants that have been detected in farmed salmon have a negative effect on brain development and is associated with autism, ADD / ADHD and reduced IQ. We also know that they can affect other organ systems in the body’s immune system and metabolism.”
As reported by Alexandra Morton, a large European study involving about 8,000 newborns found that pregnant women with high levels of toxins in their bodies tend to give birth to children with lower birth weight, which in and of itself may have an adverse on the child’s health.
Omega-3 Levels in Farmed Salmon Is Nearly Half of That in Wild Salmon
Another Norwegian article reveals that levels of critical omega-3 fats have been reduced by about 50 percent in farmed salmon, compared to wild salmon, due to increasing amounts of grain feed. One article4 refers to farmed salmon as “swimming corncobs.” Furthermore:
“[T]he Norwegian food production’s four Norwegian feed producers now have an exemption to use 19 different genetically modified ingredients in their feed. Genetic modification (GM) is very controversial, and completely excluded in Norwegian agriculture,” the article states.
The following chart from the Pure Salmon Campaign’s website,5 reveals the nutritional differences between farmed and wild salmon, according to USDA data. While farmed salmon is much fattier than wild salmon, it contains FAR LESS healthful omega-3 fats, and less protein.
Image credit: PureSalmon.org (link: www.puresalmon.org/human_health.html )
Norway Lobbied to Raise Allowable Toxin Levels in Salmon Feed…
In 2006, Russia banned Norwegian farmed salmon, claiming it contained excessive amounts of lead and cadmium (originating from the feed). The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (FSA) rejected the accusations, but Dr. Claudette Bethune, a researcher at the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) spoke out6 saying that “given the amount of research, there is no way Norway can be so sure its salmon is completely safe.” She also told the media that the FSA’s recommendations on how much salmon is safe to eat actually exceeded the level set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for poison ingestion.
Despite that, and in the midst of all these rising concerns over the past several years, a June 17 story in the Norwegian media7 revealed that Norway lobbied the EU to raise the permissible level of toxins in salmon feed, which has now been granted. A translation reads:
“After yesterday’s debate on the danger of eating farmed salmon due to high levels harmful pollutants, it was revealed Norwegian authorities have lobbied in EU to allow more toxin level in salmon. According to Aftenposten’s report, Norway has for years tried to get the EU to allow 10 times more toxin [Endosulfan—a bioaccumulative toxin] in salmon than previously allowed. Now, Norway has received approval in the EU.
The consultation document from the FSA shows that there are economic reasons why Norway is eager to raise the limit.’The limit value for the concentration of endosulfan in feed for salmonids is of great economic importance for the aquaculture industry in the short and longer term,’ stated the letter. Endosulfan was previously forbidden to use in feed for all salmonids, but research has shown that fish can withstand poison through better feed than by being exposed to it in the water.”
As explained by Morton, Endosulfan is a toxic pesticide known to attack the nervous system, and can increase the risk of autism and cause birth defects to the male human reproductive system. Further complicating the situation and raising new questions about safety is the fact that, in April of this year, the EU also made it official that pigs and chickens can be used in farmed salmon feed! Since when do salmon eat a diet of grains, pork and poultry? Just what kind of fish do you end up with when they’re given this kind of diet?
Farmed Fish Pose a Number of Health Hazards to Your Health
It’s important to realize that farm raised fish of ALL species can spell disaster for your health in a number of ways. Just like you need an optimal diet to be healthy, all other animals need their optimal diet as well. And fish were never meant to eat corn, grains, or poultry and pork for that matter. In addition to this unnatural diet, farmed fish of all species are also given a concoction of vitamins, antibiotics, and depending on the fish, synthetic pigments to make up for the lack of natural flesh coloration due to the altered diet.
Without it, the flesh of caged salmon, for example, would be an unappetizing, pale gray. The fish are also fed pesticides, along with compounds such as toxic copper sulfate, which is frequently used to keep nets free of algae.
Not only do you ingest these drugs and chemicals when you eat the fish, but these toxins also build up in sea-floor sediments. In this way, industrial fish farming raises many of the same environmental concerns about chemicals and pollutants that are associated with feedlot cattle and factory chicken farms. In addition, fish waste and uneaten feed further litter the sea floor beneath these farms, generating bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures.
Studies have also consistently found levels of PCBs, dioxins, toxaphene and dieldrin, as well as mercury, to be higher in farm-raised fish than wild fish. The reason for this, as discussed above, is because wild fish are caught and ground up into fish meal to be fed to the farmed fish, which concentrates any contamination found in each individual wild fish… Sadly, even wild-caught fish have already reached such toxic levels that it’s impossible to recommend eating them with a clear conscience anymore.
For example, according to a US Geological Survey study, mercury contamination was detected in EVERY fish sampled in nearly 300 streams across the United States. More than a quarter of these fish contained mercury at levels exceeding the EPA criterion for the protection of human health. So, when you consider the fact that factory farmed fish typically are even MORE toxic than wild-caught fish and also contain an assortment of antibiotics and pesticides, avoiding them becomes a no-brainer – at least if you’re concerned about your health.
To learn more about the differences between farmed salmon and wild salmon, specifically, please see my interview with Randy Hartnell, founder-president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics. I’m a huge fan of their wild sockeye salmon, and beside a fish dinner at a restaurant here or there, Vital Choice salmon is about the only type of fish I eat. Wild Alaskan salmon from Vital Choice is well over 75 percent of my current choice of protein when I’m not travelling.
Download Interview Transcript
Buying Local Increases Food Safety and Food Security
Morton recommends buying local foods and wild fish. I couldn’t agree more. It’s worth keeping in mind that disease in farm animals is one of the primary sources of epidemics in humans. Therefore, the health of food animals is really paramount. Fish farms are the aquatic version of a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO), and just like their land-based cattle and chicken farms, aquatic CAFOs are a breeding ground for disease and toxic waste, and produce food animals of inferior quality.
Due to the dramatically increased disease risk—a natural side effect of crowding—these animals are further contaminated with drugs, and in the case of salmon, synthetic astaxanthin, which is made from petrochemicals that are not approved for human consumption as it has well-documented toxicities.
The industry will tell you the world needs inexpensive food, and inevitably, they insist that such foods can only be created using the latest technology and artificial means. The latest example of this craziness is the creation of what amounts to a vegetarian fish diet designed for carnivorous fish.8 Instead of fishmeal, the protein in this feed comes from bacteria, yeast or algae instead. This way, fish farms will not need to use valuable wild fish to feed farmed fish, and this, they claim, will help alleviate world hunger… Nevermind the fact that by altering a fish’s diet in such a drastic way, you’re undoubtedly altering its nutritional content as well.
At present, industry profits are being prioritized over the health of the people and unborn children, and cheap foods are being produced at the expense of our environment and, potentially, the very lives of our descendants. The ramifications of our large-scale, mass-producing, chemical-dependent food system are incredibly vast, which is why I urge you to become more curious about your food. Where and how was it raised, grown, or manufactured? These things do matter; for your health, and the health and future of our planet.