Salmon With Your Salad? Well…

So, you’re sitting at a restaurant…

and looking for the healthiest choice from the menu or maybe something sans meat as you don’t eat much meat, and order the salmon.

We have all done it.  And on that menu is nothing about the salmon being wild, and the waiter, when asked, tells you he needs to go ask someone.  Either of those outcomes are your answer- the salmon is farm raised.  No restaurant would be serving up the more expensive sought-after wild certified, or ecologically farmed, without telling you (unless they are daft restaurateurs).

Consider this:  Farm raised salmon, pound for pound, uses more antibiotics in its farming practice than any other farmed protein on the planet, land or aqua-farming.  That is just the start of its problems.  But in looking into this matter, I have found that not all farm raised salmon is created equal.  Whole Foods Markets for instance has strict standards which they tell us their farms adhere to.

Scottish Salmon, Marketing to the World

You can bet that anything labeled ‘Atlantic salmon’ is the bad stuff unless otherwise noted to be different.  “Color” is added, otherwise this salmon, feasting on pellets, would be grey.  The ‘color’ is actually a “trans” beta carotene.  You have heard of beta carotene as it makes carrots orange. And you have heard of trans-fats, which the city of New York has banned.  Combine the two, and you have the chemically produced (read: cheaper, unhealthy) beta carotene that they are feeding the fish.

I was at several restaurants in Aspen last summer.  The server in each establishment announced they had “Scottish Salmon” on the menu.  When asked, none of them knew the origin (farmed or wild).  It was July!  WHY were these upscale Colorado restaurants serving us fish imported a quarter of the way around the world from Scotland, and not wild from the Pacific Northwest, a three hour flight away (where the supply is at its peak in July!)?  This got me wondering.

Upon investigating I found that Scottish aquaculture is all about big industry.  No claims to be doing anything ecologically friendly or environmental beyond standard approved practices within government regulation and ‘trying’ to improve. Scotland is the EU’s biggest producer of farmed salmon and has had its share of growing pains at the expense of wild populations. Containing the farmed fish to their pens is just one such debacle they have not succeeded at.[1]

Sure there are going to be wonderful ethical farms out there, and in Scotland too, but if you aren’t buying it directly from the farm itself or a distributor like Whole Foods, who claim to take it upon themselves to monitor such practices, then do assume the worst.  By the way, there is no such thing as an organic certification for farmed fish recognized in the United States.  Here, its either wild, ethically farmed, or not.

Evolution and Genetically Modified, Shmodified

I tend to read faster when it comes to horrific lists of things I feel helpless in correcting. So with you dear reader in mind, I titled this segment what I did.  You know I’m getting at things being bad, and maybe that is all you need and want to know.  But there is a sad story here that I am not going to sum up adequately:  the huge ecological and environmental implications of farmed and genetically modified salmon on our wild salmon and on our seas.

There are volumes written already, all saying the same thing: the salmon farming industry has proved to be devastating to the wild salmon.

Take a certain parasitic blood sucking sea lice for example that attaches itself to salmon.  Wild salmon have adapted to these lice for over the last thousands of years enough to be able to withstand their injury and continue living.  All that evolutionary progress the wild salmon made is being thrown to the sea as the un-adapted farmed salmon escapes from their pens and cross breads. Wild populations have been diminishing as a direct result of the farming industry.[2]

Compound that with Aquabounty Technology’s current push to get genetically modified salmon approved by the USDA.  These salmon would grow at least twice as fast as wild salmon.  Additionally the USDA awarded this Boston-based company a half million dollar grant to study splicing a gene into the fish that would make them sterile and unable to reproduce with wild populations.  This starts reading like a sci-fi novel doesn’t it?!  Sure, there is no way for that sterile genetic material to make its way into the genes of our wild populations.  No way at all.  We know that for sure. Right?  We can control evolution.  We have the technology.  Right?

Chemicals, Shmemicals

But this article is really not about the environmental impact.  It is about your knowledge of what you may be ingesting.  Take the aforementioned sea lice.  This is controlled by a chemical known as Slice (emamectin benzoate) which the sea lice have quickly become resistant to.  As this resistance rises this chemical becomes ineffective, and at least three times the amount of Slice is now needed to control sea lice.  It just so happens that this same chemical is used to control the pine beetle in the Rockies (the cause of all those acres of dead trees if you have been to the Rockies recently), and when given to rats and dogs it causes tremors, spinal deterioration and muscle atrophy. (And that is just the beginning.  What progresses afterward?)  Do you think your government has you covered on this one?  Think again! The United States Food and Drug Administration does not test imported salmon for emamectin benzoate.[3]  This is only one of many chemicals commonly used by the industry.

So, choose as you will

I say this to you, the vegetarian who eats ‘some’ fish and never meat, and at a work or restaurant situation chooses the salmon as the ‘healthiest’ option.

I say this to you, the person choosing the salmon to reduce their cholesterol (know that dietary intake of cholesterol has little bearing on cholesterol numbers for most people anyway, and that cholesterol is not the bad guy you think it is).

And I say to myself, that my personal ‘even a little bit in moderation’ does not apply here.



[1] http://www.atlanticsalmontrust.org/concerns/salmon-farming-in-scotland-economic-success-or-ecological-failure.html

[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/318/5857/1772.short

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/opinion/09grescoe.html?pagewanted=print

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