Is farmed salmon healthy and sustainable?

WOMENA long time ago, Atlantic salmon was an abundant wild species. Born in the rivers of the northeastern United States and Canada, after a few years living in freshwater, they embark on an epic migration, crossing 2,000 miles across the Atlantic to feed and mature off the west coast. Greenland. Millions of salmon migrate up to 60 miles a day, fending off predators and eating plankton and small fish. When the time came, the earth’s instincts and magnetic field led these beautiful fish back to spawn in the exact rivers where they spawned.

Today, the wild salmon is an endangered species, having disappeared from most rivers in America. In the past 20 years, however, a new threat has emerged: floating fish farms in the ocean known as open-grid trout farms. The $20 billion a year farmed salmon industry is the fastest growing food production in the world, and it has made farmed Atlantic salmon the most popular fish on the table in North America. . But at what cost?

This new fish is an industrialized impostor that endangers our health and harms our planet. Farmed salmon are bred to grow fast in overcrowded cages that are full of parasites and disease. Fish feed on fishmeal pellets, vegetables and animal by-products; They are used frequently with pesticides and antibiotics.

We spent over two years investigating the global salmon farming business and the multinationals that control it for our book, Salmon war. We interviewed scientists, doctors, fishermen, activists and aquaculture business people. We read academic studies, court papers, and previously undisclosed investigative records. We have identified and tried to answer three important questions surrounding farmed salmon.

First and foremost, is it healthy to eat farmed salmon?

Doctors recommend eating salmon for protein, nutrients, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least two servings of fish per week. But they rarely spell out the type of salmon you should eat or warn of the dangers.

Many experts and scientific studies cast doubt that salmon should be part of a healthy diet when fish come from net-net farms. Some farmed salmon may be safer than others, but consumers rarely have enough information to make that choice. The labels cannot reveal that the salmon is farmed, let alone identify the chemicals used to raise it. The US Department of Agriculture doesn’t even have a definition for organic salmon.

Dr Leonardo Trasande, professor of environmental medicine at New York University, told us: “It is confusing, and I suspect there is intentional confusion there. “We know that every fish is a trade-off between omega-3 content and toxic content like PCBs. From the point of view of salmon in general, the balance is in favor of consuming that type of fish. Now, the challenge is that I can’t tell which salmon is being raised the right way or the wrong way.”

As early as 2004, scientists found levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, a possible cancer-causing substance known as PCBs, in farm-raised Atlantic salmon seven times higher than in wild-caught salmon. . Many recent studies have found high levels of other chemicals and antibiotics in farmed salmon. Researchers at Arizona State University have discovered an increase in antibiotic resistance in farmed seafood over the past 30 years, leading to concerns about the increased risk of antibiotic resistance in humans. Toxins often build up in the flesh of salmon and in people who eat fish.

Some studies warn that one meal per month of farmed Atlantic salmon could expose consumers to levels of pollution that exceed World Health Organization standards. The risks are greatest for infants, children and pregnant women because of the potential harm from pollutants on the developing brain.

Seafood Watch, an independent fish consumption guide affiliated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, recommends avoiding most farm-raised Atlantic salmon because of overuse of chemicals and disease. Nutritionists often recommend eating wild salmon over farmed salmon.

Second, is farmed salmon sustainable?

Salmon farmers often advertise their fish as sustainable and naturally raised. These claims are deceptive.

Salmon are carnivores. Fish meal and fish oil from anchovies, sardines, mackerel, herring and other small forage fish make up 25 to 30 percent of the diet of most salmon. A quarter of the fish harvested from the world’s oceans is fed to aquaculture and livestock. To meet the growing global demand for salmon, giant trawlers have fished off the coasts of West Africa and Peru, robbing subsistence fishers of their livelihoods and increasing the status quo. food insecurity.

Dr. Ibrahima Cisse of Greenpeace told us: “You take food from the plates of West Africans to feed the people of Europe, America and other countries.

Salmon farmers argue that they are meeting the demand for protein as the global population grows. The depletion of fisheries in low-income countries to provide unsustainable fish stocks to richer countries sets a dangerous precedent.

Efforts to develop alternative protein sources are underway in university labs and start-ups. So far, the small fishing industry shows no signs of ending.

Recent courts have challenged the industry’s claims of sustainability. Norway’s Mowi ASA, the world’s largest salmon farmer, settled a deceptive advertising case in federal court in New York City a year ago. The company paid $1.3 million and agreed its US subsidiaries would stop using the terms “sustainably sourced” and “naturally farmed” to describe its smoked salmon.

Finally, is farmed salmon raised in the wild in ways that don’t harm the environment?

You are the judge.

This fish lives for two to three years in open net farms containing up to a million salmon trapped in 10 or 12 cages, extending 30 feet below the surface and anchored to the seabed. Overcrowded cages are petri dishes for small parasites called sea lice and many viruses that kill farmed fish and endanger wild salmon when currents carry them outside the farms.

Large doses of pesticides, including neurotoxins, are banned, and antibiotics are used to fight parasites and pathogens. Some of the residue settles in the salmon, and some falls to the sea floor below the cage. Untreated waste from uneaten food, decaying fish, feces and chemical residues forms a toxic slurry that kills or repels marine life for hundreds of feet. A photo we found shows a gauge stuck to the 32-inch mark in the slime underneath a salmon farm.

Salmon in open-air farms die from parasites, diseases, and the water heats up at an astonishing rate. It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of farmed salmon die each year before they are harvested; That’s tens of millions of fish. For comparison, mortality rates for factory chickens were 5% and 3.3% for livestock. Young wild salmon that begin migrating are particularly vulnerable to swarms of sea lice from farms. Escaped farmed salmon compete for food with wild fish and weaken the genetic pool through crossbreeding.

85% of the salmon we eat comes from farms along the coasts of Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada. However, the Food and Drug Administration, the agency responsible for food safety, has paid little attention to farmed salmon at a time when foodborne pathogens are on the rise. For example, an investigation by the Office of General Accountants, a branch of Congress, found that the FDA examined 86 samples out of 379 thousand tons of salmon in 2017.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. The new technology, called the recirculating aquaculture system, raises fish in self-contained, land-based facilities. Fish swim in tanks filled with filtered, circulating water and the salmon never touch the ocean, eliminating the use of chemicals and harm to the environment.

Several recent surveys show that consumers will pay a premium for products that are sustainable and do not harm the environment. Terrestrial salmon may eventually dominate the global market. Now, transparency, better regulation and accurate labeling on farmed salmon are essential to ensure good choices for our health and the health of the planet. Until that happens, Atlantic salmon raised from open net cages is not on our menu and will not be yours.

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