An obvious catch with farmed salmon

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Last week Science magazine published a report by environmental experts from the universities of Indiana, Michigan and New York. It found that farmed salmon, especially that from Scotland and the Faroe Islands, had 10 times the levels of 13 toxins (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, dieldrin...) which threaten the immune and reproductive systems and can cause cancers. (In turn some fire retardant chemicals have also, in a separate study, shown up in the breast tissue of nursing mothers. Lovely.)

The salmon farming industry's response is that they disagree - controversial! - saying that, actually the study shows the level of contamination doesn't exceed those set out by the US food and Drug Administration. "Consumers," said a spokesperson from Scottish Quality Salmon, "should be reassured by this research." Read this comment knowing that in Scotland alone the retail value of farmed salmon is £600m a year and rising. And that most of the salmon farms are controlled by a few; and that in a couple of years' time it's feared that just a handful of companies will control 90 per cent of the industry.

The Food Standard Agency - the government body which is meant to protect us from such things such as dangerous food - issued a statement: "[the study] shows that the levels of dioxins and PCBs in salmon are within internationally recognised safety limits and confirms previous studies by the FSA". This is a master stroke. It confirms previous studies! That is meant to make us feel better?

Yesterday morning, I listened to GMTV's Dr Hilary give his evidently forensically researched advice in response to this study, on breakfast TV. I'm picking on him but really there are loads of "experts" (and, chillingly, consumers make their shopping choices based on such "expert" opinions) that comment on farmed salmon and give advice that is, to my mind, plain wrong. His view? That as long as you didn't eat it three times a day, the benefits outweighed the risks. "Apparently it's safe to eat tinned salmon" said the GMTV presenter, "Oh yes, why's that?" he asked. The presenter had to tell him that tinned salmon tends to be Pacific salmon which is wild and whilst all wild fish accumulate toxins the levels are drastically lower than those in farmed fish.

It's naïve to pretend aquaculture - the world's fastest growing food industry - isn't here to stay. So what to do? Well I can only tell you what I do. I only eat wild Pacific salmon or, very occasionally, "organically" farmed Atlantic salmon. Salmon was always meant to be an occasional treat.

The ironic thing - and the point that as far as I can tell all those talking heads have missed - is that the reason salmon was good for us is that wild salmon is, because of its natural diet, rich in Omega-3 which is essentially a "marine" fat which has huge health benefits. But farmed salmon - to force them to grow big and grow big quickly - are fed an Omega-6 rich diet. Omega-6 is a "land" fat and we eat far too much of this already.

When you next see a piece of falsely orange, fat-riddled farmed salmon, look at it and know that it is a perfect reflection of a society that has become used to wanting and getting everything now! quickly! cheaply! all year round! Farmed salmon is a dreadful product; the sad fact is that we entirely deserve it.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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