Oceana today called for global testing and labeling of fish in response to new findings reported in the journal Science that consuming farm-raised salmon could pose significant health risks. The study exhaustively tested and compared salmon raised by the fast-growing aquaculture industry to those caught in the wild and found that many extremely toxic chemicals accumulate at significantly higher levels in farm-raised fish. The farm-raised fish consistently carry levels high enough to trigger warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization.
“Combined with reports of mercury contamination in swordfish and tuna, and pesticides in shrimp—to say nothing of concerns about beef safety—this study is a stark reminder that people deserve to know the facts about what they are eating, whether it’s safe and where it comes from. It’s hard to belive we don’t already require testing and labeling of seafood,” said Jackie Savitz, Director of Pollution Programs for Oceana.
Among the chemicals of concern are PCBs, formerly used in electrical equipment; dioxins, which are byproducts of waste incineration; and the pesticides toxaphene and dieldrin. Many other chemicals were also found at much higher levels in the farmed fish than in the wild fish. These chemicals, known as organochlorines, can cause a host of illnesses including cancer, reproductive and immune impairment, and neurological and developmental effects.
The researchers attribute the significant difference in contamination to differences in diet between farm-raised and wild-caught fish. Their analyses found that feed for farm-raised salmon, which is concentrated and high in fish oils and fish meal, was also significantly contaminated.
“This is a global problem that hits very close to everyone’s home,” said Andrew Sharpless, Chief Executive Officer of Oceana. “Fish are a healthy part of the diet and people should not be forced to choose between nutrition and contamination – but they must be able to distinguish safe fish from contaminated fish.
“We need a global testing and labeling program so we can make an informed choice about what we eat. Letting people know that they’re eating farmed salmon—and where it comes from—is an important first step.”
Contaminant levels were highest in salmon raised in European countries, possibly as a result of higher contamination levels in fish feed produced there.
According to Xavier Pastor, Vice President for European Oceans and Seas, “Due to the high levels of toxics in farmed salmon in Europe, Oceana is also calling on the European Union to more carefully regulate farm-raised fish and above all to eliminate contamination that threatens public health.”
Salmon from farms in Chile were somewhat less contaminated than those produced in North America or Europe, but were still significantly more contaminated than wild-caught fish. Marcel Claude, Vice President for Southern Oceans and Antarctica in Santiago, Chile, stated “Chile should not be proud that its salmon is not the most contaminated. As a major producer of farm-raised salmon, Chile must make sure its fish are safe to eat.”
Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the world's oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana's constituency includes members and activists from more than 150 countries and territories who are committed to saving the world’s marine environment. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas, a South American office in Santiago, Chile, and a European office in Madrid, Spain. For more information, please visit www.Oceana.org.