Contaminant Levels Found in Healthy Fish

A recent, major investigation report published in Science found that farmed salmon had 10 times higher levels of toxic contaminants, such as PCBs, dioxins and pesticides, compared to salmon from the wild. These pollutants, widely used by industry and agriculture in the past, are now ubiquitous in fish. These findings challenge the earlier notion that the contaminant levels are too low to pose any danger.

Because salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids known to reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, consumers are encouraged to eat hundreds of grams of salmon every month. However, the finding of contaminants and the consequent health risks, including the increased raised risk of cancer, could detract from the known health benefits of eating fish containing these beneficial oils. Although the contamination did not exceed FDA safety limits and the risk/benefit analysis in these situations is complicated, it is apparent that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption. Risk estimates for cancer used by EPA suggest that people should eat no more than 55 grams of such fish a month, just quarter of a normal portion (8 ounces or 200 grams).

Salmon, once a rare and expensive delicacy, has been made more available due to fish farming. In the last two decades, fish farming has boosted production by 40 times, particularly in northern Europe, North America and Chile. So, how much your salmon is contaminated compared with others? Interestingly, European raised salmon have significantly higher contaminant load than those raised in North and South America. The most contaminated salmon analyzed was farmed in Scotland and the Faroes. Maybe the proposed COOL (Country of Origin Label) will benefit those consumers wishing to know their salmon’s source and thereby avoid unwanted contaminants.