The Great Outdoors
The world's biggest and most comprehensive study of farmed
and wild salmon ever made concludes that the eating of the farmed fish should
be sharply restricted to avoid unacceptable cancer risks.
But representatives of B.C.'s multi-national net-cage
salmon operations react only with attempts to confuse the issue and
smokescreen their polluted and chemical-saturated "farms," trying to paint the
wild fishery with the same dirty brush. And, predictably, our
big-business-besotted Campbell government has no time for considering public
health when there is money to be made.
The report of the study by six U.S. and Canadian
researchers with top credentials, was published in the prestigious SCIENCE
journal, and disclosed that farmed salmon often contains ten times the
pollutants found in wild fish. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) advises that consumption of more than one meal of farmed salmon
per month could be a cause of cancer. Even in areas where the least
contaminated Atlantics were found, the testing agency in most cases urged a
ceiling of two meals per month. Yet this dangerous farmed fish dominates over
the wild varieties in most of the world's retail markets.
The EPA concluded that wild salmon could safely be eaten as
often as eight times in a month.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the largest American
philanthropies, sponsored the study. Pew has sponsored major research on
fisheries, including a number of widely reported recent studies of the
deterioration of the marine environment.
While earlier studies have analyzed anywhere from eight to
13 salmon samples from individual salmon farming regions, this major study
analyzed fillets from about 700 farmed and wild salmon in eight major farmed
salmon producing regions around the world, and purchased in 16 large cities in
North America and Europe, including Vancouver. The study's authors represent
fields from toxicology to biology and statistics, and they chose samples to be
representative of the salmon typically available to consumers around the
The researchers found significantly higher concentrations
of contaminants in farmed salmon versus wild. In particular, four substances
that have been well studied for their ability to cause cancer---PCBs, dioxins,
dieldrin and toxaphene---were much more concentrated in the farmed fish.
"Ultimately, the most important determinant of risk has to
do with where the fish is farmed, not where it is purchased," said Dr. David
Carpenter, an author of the study and director of the Institute for Health and
the Environment at the University at Albany. "And because it is a global
market, it's hard to be sure what you're getting."
The Pew-sponsored study concluded that the contamination
problem is likely related to what salmon are fed when they're in the
net-cages. While wild fish diets range from small aquatic organisms like krill
to larger fish (like herring), farmed salmon and fed a concentrated and high
fat mixture of ground up fish and fish oil. Since chemical contaminants a fish
is exposed to during its life are stored in its fat, the high fat the
farm-fish food passes along more toxins.
Consumers who want to know whether salmon is wild or farmed
should be aware that the word "fresh" on the label doesn't mean the fish is
wild-caught from the ocean, and almost all salmon labelled "Atlantic" is
farmed. The study's authors recommend that government require clear and
prominent labelling of farm and wild salmon as well as the country of origin
of all farmed fish.
The response of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association tries
to cloud the issue by claiming that fish is so valuable a food that we
shouldn't be concerned about a little toxicity, and also implies that the Pew
study is part of a dark conspiracy by "activists" to discredit the net-cage
salmon farming operations. Such agencies as the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and its Canadian equivalent, says a group calling itself
Positive Aquaculture Awareness (PAA), have declared farmed salmon a healthy
and nutritious product.
But the Pew report has already dealt with that issue. In
assessing the human health risks of farmed salmon, the study authors used U.S.
EPA consumption guidance for PCBs, toxaphene and dieldrin covering locally
sampled fish rather than FDA standards governing commercially-sold fish
because EPA's recommendations are based on health effects only.
While FDA is the agency that actually regulates
contaminants in commercial fish, unlike EPA, the FDA does not have consumption
standards for toxaphene in fish, and the agency's standards for PCBs and
dieldrin (based on 20-year-old technology) weren't set using purely
A PAA press release insists that Pew Charitable Trusts is
for some unexplained reason "anti-aquaculture" and the net-cage-raised
Atlantics have been okayed by FDA, National Cancer Institute, National Academy
of Sciences and other agencies. But it's important to note that any such
approval came BEFORE release of the damning evidence of the Pew study--the
first truly comprehensive assessment comparing the risks of eating both wild
and farmed salmon.
Consumers are left to make their choice between accepting
either the silly conspiracy theory and outdated science of the profit-hungry
salmon farmers, or the plain and disturbing facts as presented by the
Pew-sponsored salmon study.
Unfortunately, we can't expect much help in safeguarding
human health and the health of our wild salmon fishery from the current
provincial government. When it lifted the moratorium on the spread of salmon
farming on the B.C. coast, its move was based on information that was years
out of date.