Farmed Salmon Nutrition & Food Safety

Read the facts on these 4 common Myths about Farmed Salmon & Food Safety

MYTH #1 - Farmed salmon are less nutritious than their wild counterparts. Farmed salmon have higher unhealthy fat content and contain lower levels of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon. The Facts
 
MYTH #2 - Farmed salmon are frequently fed antibiotics that contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The Facts
 
MYTH #3 - Farmed salmon are often given chemical additives or dyes in their food to colour their flesh pink like their wild counterparts. The Facts
 
Myth #4 - Research indicates farmed salmon have up to 10 times more PCBs than do wild salmon and are therefore a risk to human health. The Facts
 

MYTH #1

Farmed salmon are less nutritious than their wild counterparts. Farmed salmon have higher unhealthy fat content and contain lower levels of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon.

The Facts:

Claims by activists that farmed salmon are less healthy than wild salmon are completely false. In fact, in many cases, the opposite is true:

Farmed and wild salmon are solid sources of both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids (the healthy fats), which play a crucial role in brain function, stimulate skin and hair growth and maintain bone healthy. Farmed salmon is also a particularly rich source of the B family of vitamins, including B12 and niacin. Farmed salmon is also low in sodium, often a concern these days.

Inaccurate comments in the media in January 2010 regarding the supposed differences in nutrient values of farmed and wild salmon were corrected, based on the most recent information available.

The fact is BC salmon farmers spend great care in providing a diet to their fish that delivers a healthy, nutritious protein. 

MYTH #2

Farmed salmon are frequently fed antibiotics that contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Facts:

This is absolutely untrue. The use of medicines in animal husbandry is a standard part of modern veterinary practice. To suggest that there is something wrong with treating livestock with medication is as ludicrous as suggesting that humans should give up modern medicine. What activists characterize as the “frequent” use of antibiotics is actually a specialized, controlled and limited program of use that has led to a tremendous decline in the amount of antibiotics used in aquaculture. Over 98% of feed provided to BC farm-raised salmon are antibiotic free – hardly a “frequent” occurrence.

Antibiotic use in salmon aquaculture isn’t all that different from people. They’re used solely to treat bacterial infections, not viruses or parasites. For example, we won’t receive a prescription from our doctor for a cold but we will for strep throat. Salmon can only be prescribed antibiotics with the approval of a licensed veterinarian.

The trend toward the reduced use of antibiotics can be attributed to a number of factors including improved husbandry techniques (providing more space in the net pens for the fish, increased quality of feed, etc.), the use of more effective, targeted antibiotics that require less drug per treatment and the development and increased availability of fish vaccines.  

The use of antibiotics has decreased greatly in the last several years. In 1995, when the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands began keeping records of antibiotic use industry-wise, antibiotic use was only 456 grams per metric ton of salmon produced. By 2008, that had dropped by 84% to a mere 71 grams per metric ton of salmon produced across the industry.

The BC salmon farming industry is heavily regulated by government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). All fish produced by the industry are approved as safe for human consumption only after rigorous government testing and analysis.

If fish are subject to targeted and limited antibiotic treatments, they can only be harvested after regulated “clearance periods” that ensure there are zero residues in any fish product delivered to the market. This ensures a high level of food safety for the consumer.

MYTH #3

 
Farmed salmon are often given chemical additives or dyes in their food to colour their flesh pink like their wild counterparts.

The Facts:

Your green St. Paddy's Day beer may have been dyed, but your farmed salmon is not.

Activists make it sound as if the aquaculture industry is feeding farmed fish chemicals that may be harmful to human health for the sole purpose of ‘colouring’ the fish. This is not true. Both wild and farmed salmon are naturally white fleshed and both get their colour from carotenoids in their diet, in particular astaxanthin and canthaxanthin.

Carotenoids are vital nutrients for many species, including humans. They protect against damaging reactions in the body and some serve as a source of Vitamin A. Salmon that are not given these carotenoids suffer from slow growth and poor health.

In humans, consistent scientific evidence points to an association between the intake of the carotenoid, beta-carotene, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Higher intakes of carotenoids have also been shown to reduce the risk of age-related diseases, including prostate cancer, macular degeneration and cataracts.

Fish such as salmon and trout require carotenoids for healthy growth, metabolism and reproduction. Since their bodies cannot produce them, these fish must acquire them by eating small algae-eating crustaceans such as shrimp.

This process is replicated in salmon farms by adding carotenoids to the diet of the fish. These carotenoids ensure good health and reproduction in farmed fish, as well as proper skin and flesh colour. So it is not as if pigments are added to the salmon during processing as they are with many other prepared foods. The pigment is simply a normal part of a salmon’s diet – one that happens to impart colour to the flesh.

The carotenoid astaxanthin is commonly added to the diet of hatchery-reared smolts in the wild fisheries – including hatcheries within the Alaska wild salmon fisheries. Alaska wild salmon have recently been designated ‘organic’ by the US government.

Calling astaxanthin a “chemical additive” is the same as if the addition of Vitamin C to orange juice were called a “chemical additive”. Astaxanthin is a nutrient, and should not be given a negative label.

MYTH #4

Research indicates farmed salmon have up to 10 times more PCBs than do wild salmon and are therefore a risk to human health. 

The Facts:

As with most of their claims, this one is also false. Activists are happy to cherry pick data to try and prove this claim, but this doesn’t represent fact.

Extensive analysis shows that most food products, including both wild and farmed fish, contain minute traces of PCBs. Like most foods, farm-raised salmon are tested regularly to ensure contaminant levels remain low. PCB levels in farmed salmon are at about 1-3% of concern levels set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A study published in 2008 found that PCB levels in Canadian farmed salmon are the same or lower than the level in wild salmon. Another study shows mercury levels to be lower in farm-raised salmon than in wild salmon. But it’s important to note that because salmon (wild and farmed) are a fast growing fish (contaminants “bio-accumulate” over time), all contaminant levels are well below any level of concern.

Perhaps the American Heart Association says it best; “Regardless of the difference, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week, especially species high in omega-3 fatty acid such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout, regardless of whether they are wild or farmed.”

We’ll take the advice of the American Heart Association over activists any day.