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Point of View: Farmed salmon: the right thing to eat

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Philip Walsh
February 01, 2007

When Americans aren't buying or eating farmed salmon (it's 22 percent of the fresh fish sold at retail) they're reading about it, and very little of what they read is positive.

The attacks on farmed salmon fall into two categories: the damage inflicted on the environment in which the fish are raised and the alleged health issues surrounding 
the product.

While the anti-farmed salmon front has been relatively quiet this winter, the next negative campaign could be around the corner. Here are some false charges often leveled against farmed salmon:

Farmed salmon is raised in dirty water and forced to swim in their own waste. To grow and thrive, salmon need pristine water; the kind found in Chile, Canada and Norway. When salmon-
growing sites are chosen, much attention is given to the water's depth and the surrounding tidal flow, because effluence must be dealt with, just as it is in raising livestock.

Farmed salmon contains mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests farmed salmon for mercury and it contains lower levels than almost any other fish. It often tests as "undetectable."

Farmed salmon is dyed. The diet of both wild and farmed salmon includes astaxanthin, a nutrient that provides color to the flesh. The astaxanthin used in feed cannot be harvested; it must be synthesized. It is not an additive; it is a nutrient.

Farmed salmon contains dangerous levels of PCBs. The FDA's tolerance level is 2,000 parts per billion. The average PCB level found in farmed salmon is 27 ppb, according to the Environmental Working Group.

There are two sides to the farmed salmon story. Why, then, do we hear only the negative side?

First of all, the seafood industry is famously fragmented, with its members taking particular pride in that they agree on little to nothing. As a result of this disunity, farmed salmon offers a much softer target than beef or poultry.

Secondly, farmed salmon is grown in ocean pens and it is inevitable that any commercial enterprise that occurs in the ocean will serve as a lightning rod for the activist community.

These attacks can seriously harm consumers who stop eating this lean, heart-healthy protein. George Blackburn, MD, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, said recently, "It's a little bit hypocritical when we eat so much junk food and are so overweight that we would start worrying about fish from good providers such as established fish markets."

He dismissed activist attacks on farmed salmon, accusing those that make them of endangering human lives by encouraging the public not to eat farmed salmon.

Farmed salmon is also affordable and readily available. Wild salmon, a seasonal delight, remains an important and healthy product but does not provide Americans with the benefits of the year-round supply of farmed salmon.

Finally, the question of sustainability: For farmed salmon, sustainability is a given. It is the best friend wild salmon ever had, because without it, pressure on wild stocks would have a severe impact on a biomass that remains healthy.

The fact is that farmed salmon is safe, sustainable, affordable and good for us.

 

Philip Walsh is director of business development for The Alfa Gamma Group, a Miami fishing company with trawlers and plants in Ecuador and Panama

 

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