Don't support farmed salmon. Farmed salmon has serious health and environment implications. This site will educate you on the impacts and dangers of farmed salmon. Pass this site to every chef you know.
1. Salmon farmers never shovel their manure, they just let it fall through the nets. Think kitty litter box, that never gets changed. Thousands of tons of feces and other waste on the seafloor around the sites that is never removed. READ MORE
2. 600,000 Atlantic salmon swimming in a soup of mucus and excrement - breeds pathogen mutations that enter the ocean and the supermarkets. READ MORE AND MORE AND SOME MORE
Farmed salmon escaping from Norwegian aquaculture facilities are mating with wild salmon frequently enough to dilute their genetic stock, according to a recent paper.
Norwegian scientists conducted a genetic analysis of 21,562 wild-caught juvenile and adult Atlantic salmon from 147 rivers — a geographical sampling representing three-fourths of Norway’s salmon population.
The researchers found genes from farmed salmon in every wild population they tested, and “significant” genetic mixing in nearly half the rivers they sampled.
“The extensive genetic introgression documented here poses a serious challenge to the management of farmed and wild Atlantic salmon in Norway and, in all likelihood, in other regions where farmed-salmon escape events occur with regularity,” the authors write in the paper.
Farmed salmon escaping from Norwegian aquaculture facilities are mating with wild salmon frequently enough to dilute their genetic stock, according to a recent paper. As a result the wild salmon have decreased genetic variability, according to the study authors, who are based at Norway’s government-run National Institute for Nature Study. Low genetic variability can make a species more susceptible to disease or even extinction.
Norway is the world’s largest producer of farmed adult Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and broodstock for salmon farms. The first salmon farms were established in Norway and Scotland in 1960.
“Escapes can happen in many ways,” statistician Ola Diserud, one of the study’s first authors, told Mongabay via email. Net pens torn open by storms can free hundreds of thousands of fish. Thousands more get loose in rivers as a result of careless handling by technicians, and the number of smolt or baby salmon lost in “trickle escapes” is “unknown but large,” Diserud said.
The study’s finding that escapees have an “extensive” influence on the genetic makeup of wild populations is somewhat counterintuitive. Farmed salmon are bred for their meat, and the traits companies carefully select for, like size and late reproductive age, would make the fish less fit for survival and spawning in local rivers. (When salmon enter reproduction mode, their flesh turns pale, mushy and flavorless.)
However, Diserud said his research shows that, “the continuous influx of new escapees over years may result in a significant genetic introgression even in high density populations.” Introgression is a diluting of genetic stock that occurs at a population level when animals from one distinct group breed with another — in this case farmed Atlantic salmon interbreeding with wild Atlantic salmon.
Diserud’s team’s research drew on a genetic analysis of 21,562 wild-caught juvenile and adult salmon from 147 rivers — a geographical sampling that the authors say represents three-fourths of Norway’s salmon population. The team compared genetic markers from the wild-caught fish against a reference library of genotypes of farmed individuals sourced from three prominent aquaculture companies and wild individuals from all over Norway.
The researchers found that every population they tested had some intermixing. Diserud said that on average, 6.4 percent of genetic material in the sampled fish came from farmed salmon.
The levels of introgression were higher for rivers in regions with many fish farms or a long-established aquaculture industry. In western Norway’s Hordaland County, which the authors dub “one of the two cradles of fish farming,” on average, 42.2 percent of the genetic material in sampled fish came from farmed salmon. This means that the average wild-caught fish in Hordaland County had one parent that originated on a fish farm. In all, the researchers found “significant introgression” in the wild salmon populations of nearly half the rivers they sampled.
Meanwhile, in National Salmon Rivers and National Salmon Fjords, which have protections from salmon farming and other human activities, they found lower levels of introgression: 4.5 percent and 6.4 percent respectively.
Diserud said that the ability of any individual farmed salmon to infiltrate and mate within a wild salmon population depends on the size of the local population and how much time the escapee has in the wild.
“For example, if the salmon escaped early and spent a year or more at sea before entering a river it will be more fit,” he said. Meanwhile, in low-density wild populations, “female farm salmon have easier access to good spawning sites and therefore better egg survival chances; and the farm males will have a better chance for participating in the spawning.”
“I think this is a really relevant paper,” said Ivan Arismendi of Oregon State University, who studies the effects of invasive species within stream ecosystems and is unaffiliated with Diserud’s team. “There are several scientific articles about the potential influences of salmon aquaculture escapees, but not in sites where salmonids are native species.”
“The extensive genetic introgression documented here poses a serious challenge to the management of farmed and wild Atlantic salmon in Norway and, in all likelihood, in other regions where farmed-salmon escape events occur with regularity,” Diserud and his co-authors write in the paper.
They go on to say that the Norwegian wild salmon genetic stock will become further weakened “unless substantial reduction of escaped farmed salmon in the wild, or sterilization of farmed salmon, can be achieved.”
Karlsson S., Diserud O. H., Fiske P., Hindar K. (2016). Widespread genetic introgression of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in wild salmon populations. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea Journal of Marine Science doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsw121.
Article published by Rebecca Kessler on 2016-08-10.
Nicolas Daniel’s documentary “Fillet-Oh-Fish” takes a critical look at the fish industry, featuring exclusive footage from fish farms and factories across the globe. Many still have a rather romanticized view of fishing, but when it comes to large-scale food production, the picture is actually rather grim.
Today’s fisheries are faced with a range of severe problems, from overfishing to chemical pollution and genetic mutation from toxic exposures. As noted by the producers of the film, “through intensive farming and global pollution, the flesh of the fish we eat has turned into a deadly chemical cocktail.”
Despite that, the fish business is booming, in part due to efforts to keep the dirty underbelly of modern fisheries from public sight.
Aquaculture promotes itself as a sustainable solution to overfishing. But in reality, fish farms actually cause more problems than they solve. There’s really little difference, in terms of environmental pollution, between land-based feedlots and water-based ones.
Farmed Salmon — One of the Most Toxic Foods in the World?
The film starts off in Norway, looking at the chemicals used in fish farms. Kurt Oddekalv is a respected Norwegian environmental activist, and he believes salmon farming is a disaster both for the environment and for human health.
Below the salmon farms dotted across the Norwegian fjords, there’s a layer of waste some 15 meters high, teeming with bacteria, drugs, and pesticides. In short, the entire sea floor has been destroyed, and since the farms are located in open water, the pollution from these farms is in no way contained.
A salmon farm can hold upwards of 2 million salmon in a relatively small amount of space. These crowded conditions result in disease, which spreads rapidly among the stressed salmon.
A number of dangerous pesticides are used in an effort to stave off disease-causing pests, one of which is known to have neurotoxic effects. Fish has always been considered a health food, but according to Oddekalv, today’s farmed salmon is one of the most toxic foods in the world!
Overall, farmed salmon is five times more toxic than any other food product tested. In animal feeding studies, mice fed farmed salmon grew obese, with thick layers of fat around their internal organs. They also developed diabetes.
Genetic Mutations and Other Crazy Facts
Besides keeping pests like sea lice in check, the pesticides used also affect the fish’s DNA, causing genetic mutations. Disturbing examples of deformed cod are shown in the film.
What’s even more disturbing is that, according to Oddekalv, about 50 percent of farmed cod are deformed in this fashion, and female cod that escape from farms are known to mate with wild cod, spreading the genetic mutations and deformities into the wild population.
Farmed salmon suffer less visible but equally disturbing mutations. The flesh of the farmed salmon is “brittle,” and breaks apart when bent — a highly abnormal feature.
The nutritional content is also wildly abnormal. Wild salmon contains about 5 to 7 percent fat, whereas the farmed variety can contain anywhere from 14.5 to 34 percent.
Many toxins accumulate most readily in fat, which means even when raised in similarly contaminated conditions, farmed salmon will contain far more toxins than wild.
Shockingly, research reveals that the most significant source of toxic exposure is not actually the pesticides or the antibiotics, but the dry pellet feed! Pollutants found in the fish feed include dioxins, PCBs, and a number of different drugs and chemicals.
What Makes the Fish Feed so Toxic?
In one Norwegian fish pellet plant, the main ingredient turns out to be eel, used for their high protein and fat content, and other fatty fish from the Baltic Sea. The Baltic is highly polluted. Some of the fish used have toxic levels of pollutants, which then simply get incorporated into the feed pellets.
In Sweden, fish mongers are now required to warn patrons about the potential toxicity of Baltic fish. According to government recommendations, you should not eat fatty fish like herring more than once a week, and if you’re pregnant, fish from the Baltic should be avoided altogether.
Swedish Greenpeace activist Jan Isakson reveals some of the sources of all this pollution. Just outside of Stockholm, there’s a massive paper mill on the bank of the Baltic that generates toxic dioxins.
Nine other industrialized countries surrounding the Baltic Sea also dump their toxic waste into this closed body of water. Dioxins bind to fat, which is why herring, eel, and salmon are particularly vulnerable, and end up accumulating higher amounts than other fish.
Environmental Pollution Poses Risks
Many panga farms are plagued with disease, courtesy of the polluted waters in which they’re raised. Mekong River, where many panga farms are located, is one of the most heavily polluted rivers in the world. In 2009, the World Wide Fund for Nature placed panga on their “red” list of products that pose a danger to environmental and human health.
Millions of Vietnamese households dump their waste directly into the Mekong River each day. Pesticides used in rice cultivation also migrate into this waterway. Green algae and bacteria release toxins into the water and reduce oxygen levels in the water, which adds further stress on the fish’s immune systems, making them more prone to disease.
To address disease, farmers add industrial quantities of drugs into their fish ponds, including a wide array of antibiotics. The side effect is drug resistance, which forces the farmers to keep increasing the dosages. The panga are not the only thing affected by this strategy, of course. Antibiotics spread through the river systems, are absorbed into the fish’s tissues and excreted through feces, which redistributes the drugs into the environment — and to those who eat the fish.
Are You Eating Fish, or Fish Waste?
Fish can be one of the healthiest foods you can eat, but in the industrial age you have to be ultra careful about choosing the right type of fish. If you needed another reason to avoid processed foods, watch this film to the end, where it describes how fish waste has become a “highly valued commodity” used in processed foods. At less than 15 cents per kilo, these fish heads and tails, and what little meat is left over after filleting, is a real profit maker.
Virtually nothing actually goes to waste anymore. Fish skins are recycled for use in the cosmetics industry. The remainder of the fish waste is washed and ground into a pulp, which is then used in prepared meals and pet food.
Since food manufacturers are not required to tell you their products contain fish pulp rather than actual fish fillet meat, this product offers a high profit margin for food manufacturers. One tipoff: if the product’s list of ingredients includes a fish without specifying that it’s made with fillet of fish, it’s usually made with fish waste pulp.
Best Seafood Options: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Sardines and Anchovies
It’s become quite clear that fish farms are not a viable solution to overfishing. If anything, they’re making matters worse, destroying the marine ecosystem at a far more rapid clip to boot ... So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, the vast majority of fish — even when wild caught — is too contaminated to eat on a frequent basis. Most major waterways in the world are contaminated with mercury, heavy metals, and chemicals like dioxins, PCBs, and other agricultural chemicals that wind up in the environment.
This is why, as a general rule, I no longer recommend getting your omega-3 requirements from fish. However, I do make two exceptions. One is authentic, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon; the nutritional benefits of which I believe still outweigh any potential contamination.
Alaskan salmon is not allowed to be farmed, and is therefore always wild-caught. My favorite brand is Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics, which offers a nice variety of high-quality salmon products that test high for omega-3 fats and low for contaminants. Canned salmon labeled "Alaskan salmon" is a less expensive alternative to salmon fillets.
Other good choices include herring and fish roe (caviar), which is full of important phospholipids that nourish mitochondrial membranes.
Farmed salmon is an industry shrouded in secrecy, producing more questions than answers and threatening the native salmon population, according to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Operation Virus Hunter.
Sea Shepherd along with biologist Alexandra Morton and actor/activist Pamela Anderson—Sea Shepherd's board chairman—are behind the new campaign to investigate the lawfulness of salmon farming. Morton, as part of the campaign, will travel around Vancouver on Sea Shepherd's R/V Martin Sheen tracing the major salmon migration route, and stopping at various farms to conduct audits for disease and other factors.
"The salmon farming industry thrives on secrecy, shrouding its activities from public view," Morton said. "Operation Virus Hunter will shine a bright spotlight on this industry. Canada cannot claim it is protecting the oceans, including wild salmon, while at the same time, allowing the farmed salmon industry to release waste into the world's largest salmon migration route."
Morton said the audits with be non-aggressive and non-harassing.
"Ninety-four Nations of the Fraser River view wild salmon as being essential to who they are, and they have worked to conserve those stocks for thousands of years," First Nations Leader Chief Ernie Crey said. "The recent salmon declines are a threat to our existence and we hold salmon farms as one of the culprits. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans chooses foreign salmon famers over our title and rights again and again. We ask wild salmon be allowed to come and go to this river free from infection with farm salmon disease."
Farmed salmon comes from a hatchery stock lacking genetic variation. Often, farmed salmon are released into the wild as part of restocking programs hoping to reduce the impacts of overfishing wild salmon. Salmon can also escape into the wild due to faulty containment cages at farms. The intentional and unintentional release of farmed salmon in the wild is one of the main reasons Atlantic salmon has been drive to effective extinction.
Genetic erosion, which occurs when there is no diversity, is another consequence of the release of farmed salmon. Without diversity, a species cannot adapt to new environments or conditions. If they cannot adapt, the species eventually goes extinct.
Not only do farmed salmon lack genetic diversity, they are full of harmful chemicals, as well. Chile's National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service reported the country's salmon producers used 557 tonnes of antibiotics in 2015, with consumption rate per tonne of salmon reaching its highest point in nine year at 660 grams per tonne. Chile is the world's second largest salmon industry.
Farmed salmon are also more susceptible to disease.
"Salmon farms keep pens in the ocean, where the fish swim in their own feces, and breed disease and sea lice that kill wild salmon, threatening the orcas' ability to feed," Anderson said.
Salmon farming can also contribute to algae blooms in both fresh and salt water. Salmon farms could exacerbate the blooms by dumping rotten or contaminated fish into the sea. Sea Shepherd hopes to expose malpractices such as these.
"It is personally very satisfying to me to send one of our vessels to my home province of British Columbia, to address one of the most insidious threats to biodiversity on the West Coast—salmon farms," Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said. "Our mission is to investigate, document and expose an industry that is spreading disease, parasites and destroying the natural habitat of our wild salmon - the coho, the sockeye and the chinook. These exotic Atlantic salmon simply do not belong in these waters."
According to the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines, we should consume at least 8 ounces of seafood per week to increase our overall wellness and improve heart health. That’s more than twice the current average intake of 3.5 ounces. Verlasso salmon is a wonderful way to meet this recommendation.
Salmon is considered a nutritional “superfood” for its many health benefits. Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of Verlasso salmon provides about 2 to 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids in an 8 ounce serving. Salmon is also an excellent source of protein and contains 75% less saturated fat than a steak.
The USDA also recommends that women who are pregnant or breast feeding eat up to 12 ounces of seafood every week to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, for their own health and their babies’ health.
Benefits of Omega-3
You’ve probably heard about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. The two most important types of omega-3s are EPA and DHA. What you might not know is that our ability to produce these two fatty acids is limited. We get most of our EPA and DHA directly from what we eat, including salmon. Salmon, in turn, get their omega-3s from what they eat. Consuming 8 ounces of seafood per week increases your intake of both EPA and DHA.
Chef Marcus Guiliano is an award-winning chef, green restaurateur, real food activist, professional speaker, restaurant consultant & ultra-marathoner. Devoting his career to a whole food, whole life approach, Chef Marcus has coined the phrase Eco-Lectic Cuisine. The notion behind Eco-Lectic Cuisine is how Chef Marcus marries healthy food with ethically and socially responsible sustainable business practices. Marcus is often heard saying, “It's the whole picture that matters." Chef Marcus, and his wife Jamie, had to overcome a handful of health challenges in the late 90s. He was able to eliminate all of the medications he was taking and in the transition cure an asthmatic condition he had from birth. After overcoming his various health challenges, Chef Marcus was invited to contribute over 200 recipes to several Dr. Gary Null's books. In addition to successfully owning and operating the first Green Certified restaurant in the Hudson Valley, Aroma Thyme Bistro, Chef Marcus has begun to devote his time consulting and trouble shooting for other restaurants. His master consulting project is www.50mistakes.com: an free online cyber coaching tool for applicable to all businesses, not just restaurants. Garnering his passion for clean, sustainable, healthy food choices, Chef Marcus has launched other activist/watchdog oriented sites including: NoFarmedSalmon.com, ChefonaMission.com & the controversial FoodFraudTV.com. On FoodFraudTV.com , Chef Marcus has called out fellow chefs for not being honest to their patrons on their menus. Chef Marcus has a rather large following on YouTube and his videos can be found under the moniker: MarcusG.tv. Chef Marcus has been featured on CNN, Dr OZ, New York Post, New York Times, TEDx Longdock, Best Chef's America, Sierra Club Magazine, Huffington Post, International Wine Masters, Bottom Line Publications, Smithsonian (Online) and Organic Spa Magazine. The Colorado Dept of Agriculture stated, “Marcus Guiliano is the Willie Nelson of Farm to Table”. Recently, OneGreenPlanet.com named Chef Marcus as one of The “5 Food Activists Helping To Make Big Changes." Most days Chef Marcus can be found pursing his passion of food at his restaurant Aroma Thyme Bistro or on pursuing his passion for running on one of the many country roads and trails surrounding his restaurant.
The biggest seller of organic foods has decided to greatly reduce the
number of antibiotic-treated salmon it purchases from Chile, a move that's
expected to a deliver a huge financial blow to the aquaculture industry.
Costco recentlyannouncedthat they will
no longer be buying the majority of its salmon from Chile, the world's second
largest producer of the fish, following an increase in consumer awareness
regarding the dangers associated with the widespread use of antibiotics.
The extensive use of human drugs on farmed
animals, including fish, is contributing to an increase in superbugs, or
microorganisms that have grown resistant to antibiotics,posing a severe threat to humans, as these types of infectious diseases are more
difficult to treat.
drastically cuts farmed salmon purchases from Chile
Previously purchasing about 90 percent of its salmon from Chile, the
membership-only warehouse says it will now buy just 40 percent from the South
American exporter as they look to Norway (the world's largest salmon producer)
to supply the majority of their demand.
Over the last few years, Wal-Mart, Wegmans and
Safeway have also reduced purchases of Chilean salmon.
For eight years, Chile has been struggling to
contain the spread of a virus that is killing millions of fish; in response to
this and widespread bacterial disease, Chilean farmers have turned to
antibiotics in order to keep theirfishstock alive despite unsanitary conditions. In 2008,
Chile used nearly350 times more
antibioticson its farmed salmon
than Norway, its chief competitor.
Industry officials say this is because Norway
has developed vaccines to protect theirsalmonagainst illnesses, a development that Chile has been
unable to achieve due to a lack of funding.
Under a new "information access law,"
Chile's government, for the first time, revealed information detailing its use
of antibiotics in salmon production following a request by the environmental
While the high usage of drugs raised alarm, the
industry defended its practices, claiming that the antibiotics are approved by
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is the only method available to
fight fish-borne illnesses including rickettsia.
Several years ago, however, three Chilean salmon-farming
companieswere caught using a number
of drugs not approved by the FDA, some of which include the antibiotic
flumequine, oxolinic acid and the pesticide emamectin benzoate,accordingto Grist.org.
The illness plaguing millions of salmon,
rickettsia, is caused by a parasitic bacteria known as SRS which is carried by
sea lice that causes skin lesions and hemorrhaging in infected fish, resulting
in the swelling of their kidneys and spleen, which eventually kills them. The
disease was first reported in Chile in 1989.
groups blame unsanitary conditions and cramped pens as "super lice"
infect marine life
The environmental group Food & Water Watchsays[PDF]ocean aquaculture, "the mass production of fish
in large, floating net pens or cages in the sea — has often led to
environmental and other disasters in the countries where it has been practiced
When farmed fish escape into wild, it's a major
cause for concern as they pose an enormous threat to wild fish due to the
diseases they carry.
Unsanitary and cramped living conditions allow
disease to run rampant among farmed fish (similar to factory farms on land),
making them more susceptible to pancreatic and amoebic gill disease, infectious
salmon anemia (ISA) and an increase in sea lice, a destructive parasite
commonly found in highly stocked net pens.
Sea lice has also become resistant to
pesticides, allowing them to morph into "super lice," killing both
captive and wild fish.
Despite assurances that farmed fish wouldn't
survive in the wild, they've beenidentified
in more than 80 riversin British
Columbia. More than 500,000 farmed fish escapes occurred in 2009, according to
Norwegian farming statistics, including cod, halibut, salmon and trout.
It's also feared that farmed fish, which have
minimal genetic diversity due to inbreeding, may mate with wild fish and over
time cause them to lose "natural traits that help them survive in the
"There is good science in the campaign of course. All campaigns
at the David Suzuki Foundation begin with good science."
- Dr. David Suzuki
This post is based on a paper that I wrote in 2010, titled Research on Contaminants in Farmed Salmon: Science or Marketing? A shorter version was published in The Financial Post David Suzuki's Fish Story.
Canada has the largest coastline in the world and we're right next door to the world's largest seafood market: the United States. If there's one industry that Canada should be developing, it's aquaculture. Northern B.C. and Nova Scotia, the places where fish farming could provide hundreds of jobs, are some of the poorest parts of Canada.
Aquaculture avoids the worst risks of commercial fishing, such as over-fishing and by-catch. Yet, ironically, the biggest obstacle facing the aquaculture industry is opposition from environmentalists. In British Columbia, a "war on fish farmers" has been declared. More than 20,000 people signed a petition to close salmon farms.
"Don't buy farmed salmon ANYWHERE. Phone your local hospitals and find out if farmed salmon is served to patients," says a brochure from the David Suzuki Foundation.
"Its poison!" David Suzuki told a conference in Toronto. He wouldn't feed farmed salmon to a child, he said. In Australia, David Suzuki told an audience that farmed salmon is "full of toxic chemicals."
A few years ago, Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon, a study by Ronald Hites et al., triggered a worldwide scare about contaminants in farmed salmon. The Hites study found that levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were eight-fold higher in farmed Atlantic salmon than in Pacific salmon.
If the eight-fold difference had been between 0.5 parts per million (ppm) and 4.0 ppm, the ﬁndings would have been consequential to human health. However, the eight-fold difference was between 0.0366 ppm and 0.0048 ppm. Since the tolerable level for PCBs in fish is 2.0 ppm, the eight-fold difference is inconsequential. Nonetheless, in a newswire that dismayed scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reported “Farmed Salmon More Toxic Than Wild.” Following suit, the media reported the Hites study with alarming headlines worldwide.
In the wake of the Hites study and its international publicity by environmental organizations, bad press about farmed salmon tripled for about two years, according to an an Idaho University study. Ninety percent of the news items mentioned cancer risks and yet the actual research findings didn't indicate any such risks whatsoever.
The Role of the David Suzuki Foundation
Pure Salmon NY Ad PCBsMuch to the chagrin of the public health community, in publicizing the Hites study, environmental organizations - including the David Suzuki Foundation - explicitly targeted pregnant women with the flawed message that farmed salmon should be avoided because of PCBs. The poster shown at the left is by the Pure Salmon Campaign of which the David Suzuki Foundation was a member.
The Hites study was a follow-up to a study from the David Suzuki Foundation in 2002. Even before that study was published, David Suzuki sent a form letter to thousands of supporters - including the author of this blog. David Suzuki's letter began, “This may be one of the most unusual ‘Thank you’ letters you’ve ever received, but here goes. I want to say thank you for helping me to uncover the fact that B.C. farmed salmon is heavily contaminated with PCBs and other toxins." "I really do mean Thank You,” wrote David Suzuki.
The problem is, David Suzuki didn't uncover the "fact" that he said he did. His study only had eight fish. Mercury levels were actually higher in the wild salmon than in the farmed but that's meaningless because such a small study isn't representative of either farmed or wild salmon. This raises what I believe is a fair question: why did David Suzuki falsely report that he had uncovered the "fact" that B.C. farmed salmon is heavily contaminated with PCBs and other toxins? Was this an honest error? Or did David Suzuki prevaricate about PCBs in farmed salmon? And if so, why?
The Suzuki study came on the heels of market research by SeaWeb, conducted in the spring of 2001. A few months later, Pew made the first of several grants for the Hites study and on the very same day, Pew granted $181,000 to the David Suzuki Foundation.
David Suzuki's research about contaminants in farmed salmon was funded by the Lazar Foundation, a pro-Alaskan foundation based in Portland, Oregon. And yet, the Lazar Foundation says that it is focused on Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska - not British Columbia. Lazar also explicitly states that it does not fund work on "toxics" so why did the Lazar Foundation pay for a study of contaminants in farmed salmon? Lazar also paid the David Suzuki Foundation $12,500 for "legal action challenging the expansion" of salmon farming in B.C. Lazar also funded market research by SeaWeb about farmed vs. wild salmon.
SeaWeb's market research found that the most compelling reason why people might avoid a certain ﬁsh is fear of contaminants. Sadly, the least important factor was whether the species is over-ﬁshed.
SeaWeb and Environmental Defense have been saying that the maximum number of safe meals of farmed salmon is half a meal per month for adults and older children and for younger children, zero meals. Who’s going to feed their child half a meal because half is safe and half isn’t?
"The avoidance of modest fish consumption due to confusion regarding risks and benefits could result in thousands of deaths every year due to cardiovascular disease, and the suboptimal neurodevelopment in young children," Harvard scientists warn.
At the University of British Columbia, scientists found that Vancouver-born infants of well-educated mothers are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. The infants' eyesight was compromised, their brain development may have been adversely affected. This situation is not helped by the fact that Canada's most trusted environmentalist has been giving pregnant women faulty advice to avoid farmed salmon. The truth is, farmed salmon is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in mercury than any other fish.
The Packard foundation paid the David Suzuki Foundation $762,600 for Pacific Salmon Forests, a project which produced a brochure titled, "Why You Shouldn't Eat Farmed Salmon."
In a series of open letters since 2007, David Suzuki has been asked whether the bad press that his foundation has generated about salmon farming is part of a "demarketing" campaign to prop up demand for Alaskan salmon. He hasn't replied but 23 press releases and negative articles about farmed salmon were quietly removed from his foundation's web-site. Nevertheless, the campaign against farmed salmon rages on. In 2010, the Moore foundation paid the David Suzuki Foundation $329,525 for "salmon market standards" and in November of 2012, Moore granted a further $496,850.
The Hites Study: A Closer Look
The same day that the Hites study was published, the Alaskan Governor issued a press release. He said, “It is important to note that this study is not telling people not to eat ﬁsh. It is telling them to eat more wild Alaskan salmon.”
David Carpenter, a co-author of the Hites study, told the press, “We hope it does not turn people away from ﬁsh, we hope it turns people away from farmed salmon.” Mr. Carpenter also told the media “women should avoid eating farmed salmon at all, from the day they are born through menopause.” He also said “one should avoid farmed salmon like the plague," and "Our results indicate elevated cancer risk from one meal (of farmed salmon) or even less per month.”
The problem is, Mr. Carpenter’s claims are way out of line with the actual ﬁndings of the Hites study. Furthermore, Agriculture Canada, the U.S. Institute of Medicine and the U.K. authorities advise eating salmon - farmed or wild - on a weekly basis.
"There are no consistent differences between wild and farmed fish both in terms of safety and nutritional contribution," says the European Food Safety Authority.
At Idaho University, Dr. Ronald Hardy estimated that the average yearly PCB intake is about 30 ug from farmed salmon, 200 ug from pork, 300 ug from poultry, 700 ug from milk, and 2,400 ug from beef. Evidently, farmed salmon is not a signiﬁcant source of PCB exposure compared to other foods. Dr. Hardy concluded, “Even if Americans doubled their intake of farmed salmon, the contribution of this consumption on total yearly PCB intake would still be 40–80 times less than the amount from beef.
The Hites study was published in the prestigious journal SCIENCE, the flagship of the AAAS. At the time, the Editor-in-Chief of SCIENCE was Donald Kennedy, a former president of Stanford University, and a trustee of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The current Editor-in-Chief of SCIENCE, Bruce Alberts, is a trustee of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Since 2000, Packard and Moore have granted more than $130-million to B.C. organizations, none of them favourable to salmon farming. Of that, at least, $12-million went to the members of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform which runs a demarketing campaign called Farmed and Dangerous. This campaign against farmed salmon is based on research about PCBs and sea lice (Krkosek et al. 2007), conveniently published in the journal SCIENCE while the Editor-in-Chief of SCIENCE was a Packard trustee.
Packard has paid a staggering $83 million since 2000 for various projects to sway market share towards wild fish and away from the competition: imported, farmed fish. The Marine Sciences web-portal of the AAAS has been funded by Packard.
The Hites study and its publicity was paid for with $5.5-million from the Pew Charitable Trusts; $2.5 million was granted to the State University of New York and $2.5 million to the Tides Center, part of the Tides USA network. Pew also granted $140,000 to Mr. Carpenter and $300,000 to Daniel Pauly at the University of British Columbia. For a study of its kind, a $5.5 million budget was unusual. The $440,000 for publicity was highly unusual.
As per Pew's specifications, the Hites study compared farmed Atlantic salmon and wild Paciﬁc salmon. Because wild Atlantic salmon and farmed Paciﬁc salmon were excluded, comparisons among the same species of salmon were avoided. In essence, the study compared apples to oranges.
Had the Hites study compared wild vs. farmed Atlantic salmon, or wild vs. farmed Pacific king ("chinook") salmon, it would likely have found higher levels of contaminants in the wild fish, a conclusion precisely the opposite of what was spread around the world in scary headlines.
The Pew Charitable Trusts states that it holds itself to the highest standards of integrity, transparency and effectiveness. And yet, when asked how the Tides spent that $2.5 million, Pew staff refused to say, citing the advice of its legal department.
"Tell the truth," says the front cover of Pew's annual report for 2010. That same year, I appealed to the Pew Charitable Trusts, in an open letter, to please clear up the confusion and controversy stemming from flagrantly unsubstantiated claims about PCBs in farmed salmon, made by Pew-funded scientists on the basis of Pew's $5.5 million dollar study. The CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts replied indifferently, "it is important to note that this research is rigorously peer-reviewed and published in prestigious journals such as SCIENCE. It was therefore hard to understand the claim in your open letter that the findings are "flagrantly unsubstantiated." Too hard to admit maybe, but surely the CEO of a $4.5 billion dollar foundation should know when a food contains merely 3 percent of the acceptable level of an omnipresent contaminant like PCBs, there is no basis to say that that particular food should be avoided because of PCBs.
In the London Times, Magnus Linklater called the Hites study “a sorry saga of ﬂawed science, selective research and hidden commercial bias." "That it was allowed into the pages of the apparently respectable journal SCIENCE is inexplicable,”wrote Linklater.
Sandy Szwarc wrote in a newsletter of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “An ulterior motive may be at work.… Facing competition from aquaculture, the wild salmon industries of California, British Columbia, and Alaska have allied themselves with environmental groups to promote wild salmon as the healthier and environmentally-friendly choice.”
Facing stiff competition from farmed salmon, the value of Alaskan salmon collapsed over the 1990s from a peak of $1.2-billion to only $125-million. Since 2002, Alaskan salmon prices have tripled. This remarkable improvement was due in part to Alaska's $50 million Salmon Revitalization program. However, much of that money went to 2,600 fishers and 63 municipalities. That won't have done much to improve salmon prices.
After Alaskan salmon prices improved, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute reported, "The infusion of dollars wasn't the sole driver; we need to be honest here. It wasn't the only thing that changed market conditions. There was some bad press for farmed salmon and there was the health issue and people wanting more seafood in their diets. All these things kind of came together like the perfect storm."
On the day before the Hites study was actually published, press releases were issued by a trio of Packard-funded environmental organizations, including SeaWeb, Environmental Defense and the David Suzuki Foundation. SeaWeb calls wild salmon "the white truffle of seafood" and has a long history of promoting Alaskan salmon. Environmental Defense provides recipes for Alaskan salmon. Since 2000, SeaWeb and Environmental Defense have been paid $23-million and $21-million, respectively, by the Packard foundation.
SeaWeb was also paid by the Moore Foundation to co-ordinate an "antifarming campaign," including "science messages" and "earned media." After questions were raised about this grant, it was quietly re-written by the Moore Foundation, along with three other grants for a total of $3.6 million for the "antifarming campaign."
In my first letter to David Suzuki, back in April of 2007, I concluded by asking Dr. Suzuki a series of questions about his foundation's involvement in the U.S.-funded "antifarming campaign" against farmed salmon. I asked Dr. Suzuki (see page 25) whether his foundation is or was one of the "antifarming ENGOs" and whether it participated in the "standardization of messaging" and the "co-ordination of media" through SeaWeb, based in Maryland. Dr. Suzuki did not answer my question but several months later, I discovered that a document which shows that, in fact, the sea lice researchers that the David Suzuki Foundation funded at the University of Alberta had a "research partnership" with SeaWeb. Not only the Moore Foundation funded SeaWeb for an "antifarming campaign" involving "science messages," Moore also funded the sea lice research itself. This another information ultimately led me to file a formal complaint of apparent scientific misconduct with the University of Alberta about the sea lice controversy that brought the salmon farming industry to its knees. For more about my complaint of apparent scientific misconduct, please click here.