Scotland's fish farmers insist their salmon is not a cancer risk

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Alan Jamieson was surprisingly relaxed on the deck of his boat yesterday as he headed out of the harbour at Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, towards his 250,000 caged salmon.

As one of the few fishermen left working from the once-busy port, there was a hint of irritation in his voice as he defended his industry against warnings of the threat of cancer posed by farm salmon. Mr Jamieson said: "It's all scaremongering and doesn't do anybody any good."

He took a drag on his cigarette, then added:"I suppose I should give these up. They are far more likely to give me cancer than a fish."

Mr Jamieson, a manager for one of the biggest salmon-farming companies in Scotland, knows what goes into rearing and cultivating the fish, and he has no qualms about eating them.

Research from the US, published in the journal Science, has claimed that farmed salmon in Scotland and the Faroe Islands have the highest levels of carcinogenic dioxins in the world and warned against eating the fish more than three times a year.

PCB and dioxin levels in Scottish salmon werelower than the thresholds set by international watchdogs such as the European Union, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite this, anti-fish farm campaigners have called for an inquiry into whether the £900m a year industry is a health danger.

John Barrington, a quality manager for Scottish Sea Farms, said: "There is nothing new in these figures." His company employs more than 300 people at 44 sites in Scotland and produces about 10 per cent of the UK total.

"Wherever you go in the northern hemisphere there are dioxins. It is the legacy of our being an industrialised civilisation. The salmon industry in the country is very carefully controlled and monitored for these dioxins and the levels are well within any of the guidelines accepted by the Food Standards Agency and the World Health Organisation. We know our salmon are safe and by and large so do our customers."

But yesterday Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), which produces 65 per cent of the country's farmed salmon,accused the American researchers from Indiana University of being "deliberately misleading". Dr John Webster, a technical consultant at SQS, said: "The levels that the study has revealed are minuscule. We're talking about measurements in parts per million-million. The beneficial effects of omega-three fatty acids found in the salmon far outweigh any negative effects these very, very low levels of contaminants might create."

According to the FSA, which yesterday urged people to continue to eat salmon, fish contributes only a small percentage of dioxins and PCBs from foods consumed in the UK. The FSA said that PCBs and dioxins can be found in all foods and even at the highest levels do not have an immediate effect on health. The greatest number of dioxins are in milk and dairy products, and meat contains about 27 per cent of toxins ingested in the average UK diet.

Sir John Krebs, chairman of the FSA, said: "People should consume at least two portions of fish a week - one of which should be oily like salmon. There is good evidence that eating oily fish reduces the risk of death from recurrent heart attacks and that there is a similar effect in relation to first heart attacks. The known benefits of eating one portion of oily fish outweigh any possible risks."

Gilpin Bradley, the general manager of Wester Ross Salmon, Scotland's oldest salmon-farming business, described the report as "scaremongering" and "sensationalist". But he also predicted that the report would have a positive effect on salmon sales.

He said: "We welcome stories like this. They benefit us because it gives the industry the chance to show that there is not a danger," he said.

The celebrity chefs Nick Nairn and Gordon Ramsay said yesterday that they would not be dropping salmon from their menus and encouraged people to continue eating the fish. Nick Nairn said: "I am not worried about it, these levels have been accepted by the Food Standards Agency as acceptable."

PERILOUS FRUITS OF THE SEA

Salmon: Farmed salmon contains PCBs and other dioxin-like contaminants linked to cancer

Tuna: Methylmercury found in tuna may affect the nervous system and cause blurred vision

Shark, marlin and swordfish: High levels of mercury are potential threats to developing brains and nervous systems of unborn or growing children. The Food Standards Agency recommends that pregnant women should avoid eating all three fish.

Trout: A source of dioxin-like contaminants linked to cancer.

Shellfish: Raw or partially cooked shellfish could be carriers of the Hepatitis A virus.

Oysters: Norwalk virus which causes nausea, dehydration, diarrhoea and abdominal pain can be found in raw oysters.

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