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Farmed Fish vs. Wild Fish: How Healthy
Is The Fish At Your Favorite Grocery?

The lack of proper public education and inadequate labeling of fish continues to be a major public health risk worldwide. Most food manufacturers, grocery chains and big box stores refuse to, or are not required to properly label their fish as farmed or wild. That's likely because the public is largely unaware of the dangers associated with cheap, high profit farmed fish that is so abundant in the conventional food supply. If you love fish, at what cost does this come to your health, and how can you protect yourself and your family?

Farm-raised salmon contain significantly more dioxins and other potentially cancer-causing pollutants than do salmon caught in the wild, says a major study that tested contaminants in fish bought around the world. Salmon farmed in Northern Europe had the most contaminants, followed by North America and Chile. The study blames the feed used on fish farms for concentrating the ocean pollutants.

Eating more than a meal of farm-raised salmon per month, depending on its country of origin, could slightly increase the risk of getting cancer later in life, researchers conclude. The study urged consumers to buy wild salmon and recommend that farmers change fish feed.

'The debate is sure to confuse consumers, who long have been told to eat fish at least twice a week because it helps prevent heart disease. Indeed, salmon is usually listed as a top choice because it is particularly high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and low in a completely different seafood contaminant, mercury.

The average dioxin level in farmed-raised salmon was as 11 times higher than that in wild salmon - 1.88 parts per billion compared with 0.17 ppb. For PCBs, the average was 36.6 ppb in farm-raised salmon and 4.75 in wild salmon.

Most governments do not have one set level of dioxins and PCBs that is considered safe in foods.

"We are certainly not telling people not to eat fish. ... We're telling them to eat less farmed salmon," said David Carpenter of the University at Albany, N.Y., who tested 700 salmon from around the world.

Farmed salmon eat lots of fish oil and meal made from just a few species of ocean fish, which concentrates the contaminants they are exposed to, while wild salmon eat a greater variety, Carpenter explained.

Raising salmon in floating pens is an industry that began just two decades ago but has helped the fish's popularity to soar, turning it from a seasonal to a year-round commodity. More than half the world's salmon now is farmed. Farm-raised salmon sells for about $4 or $5 a pound compared with $15 for wild salmon, said Alex Trent of the trade group Salmon of the Americas.

"These fish don't have to be contaminated," said Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group, which wants salmon farms to switch the feed they use.

Trent said many farmers in the United States, Canada and Chile are slowly replacing some of the fish oil in salmon feed with soybean and canola oil to address the pollutants.

"This hardly addresses the issue" said public health and research specialist Marco Torres. "We know that the majority of soy in the world is now genetically modified, which alone presents tremendous long-term health implications" he added. "Canola oil comes from the rape seed plant, which is one of the most toxic of all food-oil plants, so introducing this unnatural oil to farmed fish diets is simply irresponsible. They are not addressing the issue of increased toxins in farmed fish, they are only side-stepping to try and maintain an unhealthy industry that needs much stricter regulations and guidelines" he concluded.

Farm-raised salmon contained significantly higher concentrations of 13 pollutants, including dioxins, released when industrial waste is burned, and PCBs, once widely used as insulating material, according to the study.

Animals absorb those pollutants through the environment, storing them in fat that people then eat. High levels are believed to increase the risk of certain cancers and, in pregnant or breast-feeding women, harm the developing brains of fetuses and infants.

Nutritionist Alice Lichtenstein stated "this was a beautiful study" that does raise a concern that needs more attention. "The bottom-line message is to continue to eat fish but consume a variety of different types."

"When you fail to label (products) the consumer doesn't have an opportunity to consider the controversy over the safety of these chemicals," said Knoll Lowney, an attorney representing consumers who've taken three giant supermarket chains to court for not telling them and others how some of their salmon is raised.. "It's unfair, it's deceptive and it's against the law."

Fish farmers, the suit notes, artificially color their products by including the two chemicals in the food that the fish eat. The practice is done, the suit says, to produce more readily marketable fish flesh, because many consumers won't buy the fish if they don't have that traditional color.

Farmed fish, the suit says, would have gray flesh were it not for the artificial additives, because they don't get to eat other creatures like shrimp and krill containing the chemicals that give salmon their pinkish hue.

The Environmental Impacts of Fish Farming Include:

1. Farmed fish are grown in floating netcages and impact wild fish and other marine species by spreading sea lice, disease and parasites.

2. Farmed fish are given antibiotics, other drugs and pesticides. The drug-laden wastes from surplus food and feces pollute the marine environment and cause marine mammal deaths and waste build up.

3. The introduction of exotic species is extremely harmful to local ecosystems, causing algae blooms and is one of the greatest threats to nature.

4. Farmed fish escape from their netcages—often by the thousands—and can displace fragile wild stocks from their habitat.

Human Health & Economic Impacts of Fish Farming Include:

1. Farmed fish receive more antibiotics by weight than any other livestock. The are given the same antibiotics that used to treat human illness. This contributes to the dangerous increase of antibiotic-resistant disease worldwide.

2. Farmed fish contain higher levels of unhealthy saturated fats and lower levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. A U.S. Agriculture Department study found farmed Atlantic salmon contain 70 percent more fat than wild Atlantic salmon because of the high fat content in their feed. Farmed Atlantic salmon contain 200 percent more fat than wild Pacific pink or chum salmon.

3. Thousands of jobs depend on the health of wild fish and all the species the fish support. It is essential that politicians and citizens also give serious consideration to the jobs that are put at risk by the fish farming industry’s current destructive practices.

Salmon Farm Facts

- A salmon farm is likely to hold 500,000 to 750,000 fish in an area the size of four football fields

- The biomass of farmed salmon at one farm site can equal 480 Indian bull elephants - that is 2,400 tonnes of eating, excreting livestock

- Salmon are carnivores. On average it takes two to five kilograms of wild fish (used in feed) to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon

- In one study, over a billion sea lice eggs were produced by just twelve farms in a two week period preceding the out-migration of wild juvenile salmon.

- Infection with one to three sea lice can kill a wild juvenile pink salmon.

- Canada and Chile are the two primary sources of farmed salmon for American consumers.

- Two-thirds of the salmon consumed by Americans is farm-raised.

Creutzfeldt Jakob disease

Three U.S. scientists are concern about the potential of people contracting Creutzfeldt Jakob disease -- the human form of "mad cow disease" -- from eating farmed fish who are fed byproducts rendered from cows.

Mad cow disease, also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a fatal brain disease in cattle, which scientists believe can cause Creutzfeldt Jakob disease in humans who eat infected cow parts. The infectious particles eat away at the brain, leaving tiny sponge-like holes. There is no treatment available and death always follows.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Dr. Robert P. Friedland, a neurologist at University of Louisville in Kentucky and colleagues suggest that farmed fish fed contaminated cow parts could transmit Creutzfeldt Jakob disease.

The scientists want government regulators to ban feeding cow meat or bone meal to fish until the safety of this common practice can be confirmed.

Is Wild Fish Healthier and Safer Than Farmed Fish?

Species, season, diet, location, lifestage and age have a major impact on both the nutrient and contaminant levels of fish. These levels vary broadly within species and between species in both wild and farmed fish. There is a need for standardisation of sampling procedures before a robust comparison of wild and farmed fish can be made.

From the limited data available it seems that there are differences between farmed and wild fish. Although wild fish do not have the same levels of PCB toxins as farmed fish, many wild species still have PCBs and also levels of bisphenol-A (BPA) from the plastic polluion destroying the ocean. BPA is a well established toxin to humans linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and a hormone/enzyme disruptor.

What To Do

Due to the toxic loads associated with most species of fish, both from wild and farmed sources, the healthiest choice these days may be to avoid fish entirely or minimize consumption to once a month at most. You can calculate your mercury load here.

If omega-3 fatty acids are a concern, you can always supplement with non-fish sources such as flax or superior more effective varieties such as mussels (i.e. Moxxor).

Avoid buying any type of fish from major conventional grocers that do not label their fish (whether farmed or wild). If you cannot trace the source, don't buy it. The following list of grocers either do not label their fish or do not regulate their farmed fish sources, meaning they could be loaded with PCBs and antibiotics from unregulated fish farms.

Major U.S. Supermarket Chains To Avoid:
1. Aldi
2. Costco
3. Delhaize Group (i.e. Bloom, Food Lion, Harveys, Sweetbay)
4. Kroger (i.e. Dillion's, Food 4 Less, Jay C, QFC, Ralphs, Smiths)
5. Piggly Wiggly
6. Safeway (i.e. Carrs, Dominick's, Genuardi's, Pavilions, Randalls)
7. SuperValu (i.e. Acme, Bigg's, Bristol Farms, Cub Foods, Shaw's)
8. Wal-Mart Supercenters (Marketside, Sam's Club)

Major Canadian Supermarket Chains To Avoid:
1. Loblaws (i.e. Atlantic, Maxi, No Frills, SuperValu, Valu-mart, Zehrs)
2. Costco
3. Metro (i.e. A&P, Food Basics, Loeb, Super C)
4. Safeway
5. Sobeys (i.e. Foodland, IGA, Price Chopper)
5. Jim Pattison Group (i.e. Overwaitea Foods, Save-On Foods)

Whole Foods Market operates in hundreds of locations in the U.S., Canada and UK. According to their policy, they do regulate their farmed fish sources and do not allow PCBs, antibiotics or other toxic chemicals in their farmed fish.

Do You Really Want To Eat Fish From Foreign Lands?


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