Farmed vs wild salmon

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What are the dif­fer­ences be­tween farmed and wild salmon when it comes to hu­man and en­vi­ron­men­tal health?

SALMON farm­ing, which in­volves rais­ing salmon in con­tain­ers placed un­der wa­ter near shore, be­gan in Nor­way about 50 years ago and has since caught on in the United States, Ire­land, Canada, Chile and Bri­tain. Due to the large de­cline in wild fish from over-fish­ing, many ex­perts see the farm­ing of salmon and other fish as the fu­ture of the in­dus­try. On the flip side, many ma­rine bi­ol­o­gists and ocean ad­vo­cates fear such a fu­ture, cit­ing se­ri­ous health and eco­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions with aqua­cul­ture.

Ge­orge Matel­jan, founder of Health Val­ley Foods, says that farmed fish are “far in­fe­rior” to their wild coun­ter­parts. “De­spite be­ing much fat­tier, farmed fish pro­vide less us­able ben­e­fi­cial omega-3 fats than wild fish,” he says. In­deed, US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture re­search bears out that the fat con­tent of farmed salmon is 30% to 35% by weight while wild sal­mons’ fat con­tent is some 20% lower, though with a pro­tein con­tent about 20% higher. And farm-raised fish con­tain higher amounts of pro-in­flam­ma­tory omega-6 fats in­stead of the pre­pon­der­ance of health­ier omega- 3s found in wild fish.

“Due to the feed­lot con­di­tions of aqua­farm­ing, farm-raised fish are doused with an­tibi­otics and ex­posed to more con­cen­trated pes­ti­cides than their wild kin,” re­ports Matel­jan. He adds that farmed salmon are given a salmon-coloured dye in their feed “with­out which their flesh would be an un­ap­petis­ing grey colour.”

Some aqua­cul­ture pro­po­nents claim that fish farm­ing eases pres­sure on wild fish pop­u­la­tions, but most ocean ad­vo­cates dis­agree. To wit, one US Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences study found that sea lice from fish farm­ing op­er­a­tions killed up to 95% of ju­ve­nile wild salmon mi­grat­ing past them. And two other stud­ies – one in western Canada and the other in Eng­land – found that farmed salmon ac­cu­mu­late more can­cer-caus­ing PCBs and diox­ins than wild salmon due to pes­ti­cides cir­cu­lat­ing in the ocean that get ab­sorbed by the sar­dines, an­chovies and other fish that are ground up as feed for the fish farms. A re­cent sur­vey of US gro­cery stores found that farmed salmon typ­i­cally con­tains 16 times the PCBs found in wild salmon; other stud­ies in Canada, Ire­land and Bri­tain reached sim­i­lar con­clu­sions.

An­other prob­lem with fish farms is the lib­eral use of drugs and an­tibi­otics to con­trol bac­te­rial out­breaks and par­a­sites. These pri­mar­ily syn­thetic chem­i­cals spread out into ma­rine ecosys­tems just from drift­ing in the wa­ter col­umn as well as from fish fae­ces. In ad­di­tion, mil­lions of farmed fish es­cape fish farms ev­ery year around the world and mix into wild pop­u­la­tions, spread­ing con­tam­i­nants and dis­ease ac­cord­ingly.

Ocean ad­vo­cates would like to end fish farm­ing and in­stead put re­sources into re­viv­ing wild fish pop­u­la­tions. But given the size of the in­dus­try, im­prov­ing con­di­tions would be a start. – EarthTalk/E-The En­vi­ron­men­tal Mag­a­zine

Less whole­some: Crit­ics say farmed salmon con­tain less

healthy fats but more tox­ins than their wild cousins.

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