Why the debate of farmed vs. wild? Wouldn’t it all be the same? More than 80% of the fresh salmon eaten in the U.S. is farmed, so it should be a healthy option. Unfortunately this is not the case. Although both farmed and wild fish (in this case we will refer to the salmon studies) contain Omega 3’s, wild fish provided much more usable Omega 3 (33% more). The reason for this discrepancy is that both Omega 3 and Omega 6 use the same enzymes for conversion into usable form. So when a food has high levels of Omega 6 (pro-inflammatory agents), as farmed salmon does, they use up the available conversion enzymes to produce pro-inflammatory agents, while preventing the usable form of Omega 3 to be produced. Yikes.
Farm-raised salmon also has much higher fat content than wild fish. Why? Because wild fish swim more. Simple as that. Farmed fish get big and fat because they are marine couch potatoes.
Disease and parasites should exist in relatively low levels with fish simply scattered about in the ocean. However, they can run rampant in salmon farms. The fish are packed densely together which encourages the spread of disease. In order to survive, the salmon are vaccinated as babies and then given antibiotics or pesticides later in life to prevent infection.
Sea lice, in particular, are a real problem. In a recent L.A. Times story, Alexandra Morton, an independent biologist and critic of salmon farms, found that 78 percent of farmed salmon were covered with a fatal load of sea lice. Younger salmon that she caught further away from the farmed salmon were pretty much lice-free. At the first sign of a sea lice outbreak, farms add emamectin benzoate, a pesticide, to the salmon’s feed.
A study published in Science reported that some varieties of farmed salmon also contained high levels of cancer-causing chemicals called PCBs. The PCBs come from the fish meal and fish oil the salmon is fed. Farmed salmon in US grocery stores was tested, and because of the higher fat content of farmed fish (fat stores toxins really well), 16 times more PCB’s were found in the farmed salmon than in wild. (September 8, 2003)
Also coming from the fish feed are PBDEs. These are actually flame-retardant additives used widely in electronics and furniture. Unfortunately they are appearing in increasing amounts in fish, and farmed salmon contain significantly higher levels of these polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) compounds than wild salmon, according to research published in the August 11, 2004 issue of Environmental Science and Technology.
PBDEs are endocrine disrupters that have been shown to have reproductive toxicity, and are also suspected to play a role in cancer formation.
One other important issue in the farmed vs. wild fish debate is the addition of color to farmed salmon. Have you noticed when you go to the seafood section of the grocery store, a lot of what you see says “color added”? Salmon get their color in the wild from eating pink krill. Farmed salmon are fed canthaxanthin, a manufactured synthetic pigment. Fish farmers can choose just what shade of peach their fish will display from the pharmaceutical company’s trademarked SalmoFan, a color swatch similar to those you’d find in a paint store. Without the help of additives, the flesh of farmed salmon would be a pale halibut grey.
Choosing sustainably harvested, natural food (nothing added) is a better way to live and take care of ourselves and the earth. Say no to fake colors and mass-farmed fish and say hello to healthy, delicious, WILD seafood.