Target Goes Wild For Salmon

Posted on Saturday, February 27th, 2010
Written by: Angela, Nutritionist

Bellevue Nutritionist, Angela Pifer writes: We have all heard about the health benefits of salmon and omega 3 fatty acids (heck, our eggs are now being infused with omega-3). For all the people out there trying to do the right thing, eat healthier and add cold water fish into their diet weekly, the concern over farmed vs. wild caught fish has raised nothing but confusion on how to follow through with these goals.

Since the majority of salmon served in restaurants and found on our grocery store shelves is farmed rather than wild our choice is greatly limited. If we are supposed to eat salmon once to twice a week because it has omega three, lowers triglyceride levels, has a protective effect on the heart and has other cardiovascular benefits, then we are being forced to choose between bettering our health and exposing ourselves to cancer causing contaminants and fish that has been treated with antibiotics and has had synthetic dye added, to give it that ‘natural’ salmon color we have all come to know and love.

The other issue is availability. I have the luxury of living in the Northwest where natural foods stores abound (literally six in a five mile radius), all offering wild caught fish, but many people do not have a choice where they shop or the restaurants available to them.

On January 26, 2010 the retail giant Target announced that it will replace all farmed fish products with wild caught sustainable fish (giving us just one more reason to love Target). This is a positive move in the right direction and will hopefully push other major retailers into making the same decision. Target does not carry fresh fish, only frozen fillets and smoked products, so this won’t satisfy the need for fresh wild caught fish, but it is a start.

Foodies and environmentalists alike have been engrossed in a long debate about the effects of farmed fish on our health and on the environment.

Numerous studies have shown significantly higher levels of PCBs (banned in the US for use in all but completely closed areas since 1979, but they persist in the environment and end up in animal fat) dioxins, dieldrin and toxaphene and other cancer causing health related contaminants in farmed fish. Science Magazine published a study in 2004 which analyzed 700 farmed and wild salmon fillets from eight major farmed salmon producing regions around the world and purchased in 16 large cities in North America and Europe. This was really the first large scale sampling of farmed and wild salmon, offering the most realistic sampling of salmon typically available to consumers around the world.

This study showed that high levels of cancer causing contaminants were not specific to one geographic location but were instead a reflection of the farming practices across the industry. All geographic locations showed elevated cancer causing contaminants in farmed fish, with the highest levels found off the Northeast Coast of the US, farmed Atlantic salmon, and Europe and lower levels off the coast of Washington State and Chile. Heavy metals were found in both farmed and wild caught fish.

Given the overall contaminant levels found, EPA and many state consumption advisories would suggest that American consumers restrict their consumption of farmed salmon to no more than one meal per month and European consumers to one meal every two months. Though a valid recommendation, the concern is that American consumers do not know if they are purchasing farmed salmon with contaminant levels more typically found in Europe.

Aquafarming raises a number of environmental concerns, the most important of which may be its negative impact on wild salmon. It has now been established that sea lice from farms kill up to 95% of juvenile wild salmon that migrate past them. Antibiotics are regularly used, contributing to the rise in antibiotics in our oceans and drinking water and a possible contributor to antibiotic resistance.

When farmed salmon from U.S. grocery stores was tested, the farmed salmon, which contains up to twice the fat of wild salmon, was found to contain 16 times the PCBs found in wild salmon, 4 times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the levels found in other seafood. Other studies done in Canada, Ireland and Britain have produced similar findings. (September 8, 2003)

The notion that farmed salmon is fattier than wild salmon may lead you to believe that there is more omega 3 present and so this would be healthier for you, but this isn’t the case. Farmed salmon has more fat, more omega 3 AND more omega 6. This change in omega 3: omega 6 ratio greatly changes the anti-inflammatory and health properties of the fish.

As consumers become more vocal about their choices and demand clean, sustainable, toxic free food for the families, hopefully other retail giants (and small mom and pop retailers) will rise to the occasion and say enough is enough. This will place a bigger burden on wild caught runs, but this will also drive the prices up which should balance out consumer demand. Target hopes to retain $7.99 per pound for wild caught fish. This may be doable for a company this size, but smaller retailers will surely need to raise prices further to offset wholesale costs.

The take home message? Eat wild caught Pacific Northwest Salmon once a week and take an omega 3 supplement daily. Support Target in their decision and pick up some frozen fillets for your freezer the next time you visit their store. Go one step further by urging your local grocery store to carry wild caught fish and then make a commitment to purchase only wild caught sustainable fish and products.

Angela Pifer, MSN, CN Bellevue Nutritionist

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