Toxins Cited in Farmed Salmon
Cancer Risk Is Lower in Wild Fish, Study Reports
By Eric. Pianin
Farm-raised salmon, a growing staple of American diets, contains significantly higher concentrations of PCBs, dioxin and other cancer-causing contaminants than salmon caught in the wild, and should be eaten infrequently, according to a new study of commercial fish sold in North America, South America and Europe.
The study, using Environmental Protection Agency health guidelines, concluded that although consumers can safely eat four to eight meals of wild salmon a month, consumption of more than one eight-ounce portion of farmed salmon a month in most cases poses an "unacceptable cancer risk."
Food and Drug Administration and fishing industry officials immediately took issue with the findings. They said the contaminant levels in salmon have declined by 90 percent since the 1970s, and that the remaining threat - when balanced against the high protein and cardiovascular health benefits of eating salmonódo not warrant shunning the food.
"We've looked at the levels found . . . and they do not represent a health concern,' said Terry C. Troxell, director of the FDA's Office of Plant and Dairy Foods and Beverages. "In the end, our advice is not to alter consumption of farmed or wild salmon."
The two-year, $2.4 million study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and published yesterday in the journal Science, is the latest blow to the commercial fish industry, already suffering from growing concerns about elevated levels of mercury in tuna and shellfish.
The study found that salmon
contamination varied by geography. Store-bought samples from
EPA guidelines say that if
a person eats fish twice a week, it should contain no more than 4 to 6 parts
per billion of PCBs. The study found that PCB levels in farmed salmon sold in
Consumers may have difficulty distinguishing between farmed and wild salmon, because many stores and restaurants do not clearly label them. Wild salmon is three to four times as expensive, but some retailers confuse the issue by identifying farmed salmon as "Atlantic salmon." The study called for labels differentiating wild from farmed and noting the country of origin.
Ninety percent of the fresh
salmon consumed in the
Farmed fish contain higher concentrations of contaminants than wild fish largely because they are fed meal that consists of ground-up fish tainted with the contaminants. Wild salmon eat tiny fish and aquatic organisms that are less contaminated
Salmon of the Americas, a
group representing producers of farmed salmon in the United States, Canada and
Chile, described salmon as an unparalleled source of omega-3 fatty acids for
prevention of coronary heart disease and noted that contaminant levels for
North and South American wild and farmed salmon are well below FDA and World
Health Organization limits. Alex Trent, executive director of Salmon of the
away from farm salmon presents more of a health risk than letting them eat PCBs
at these trace levels,"
But the study's chief author said the FDA consumer health guidelines for eating salmon need to be updated.
"We are not saying
people shouldn't eat farmed salmon," said David O. Carpenter, director of
the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New
York's University at
Diet- and health-conscious Americans have turned to salmon in recent years, and about 23 million eat the fish more than once a month The annual global production of farmed salmon has increased fourfold in two decades.
Some producers of farmed fish have taken steps to improve the quality of the meal fed to their fish, although critics say far more needs to be done to eliminate PCBs and other contaminants.
PCBs, or polychlorinated
biphenyls, have been banned in the
Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group, said the study "leaves little room for the farmed fish industry to argue away the problems of polluted farmed seafood."
But Mike Bolger, director of FDA's division of risk assessment, said his agency is identifying sources of PCBs and other dioxin-like contaminants in fish and working with the industry on ways to reduce their presence in salmon feed. "We're convinced [this is] the most effective, efficient and quickest way of reducing exposure," he said.
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