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Salmon Fraud Persists; Quality of Farmed Salmon Feed Falls Further
1/21/2008
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New research affirms that farmed Salmon possess inferior fat profiles and prove that labeling fraud persists

by Craig Weatherby


Two weeks ago, we reported on an article in Cooking Light magazine that misled consumers about the relative purity of farmed and wild salmon. (Wild Salmon definitely represents the pinnacle of purity: see “Salmon Safety Report Confuses Consumers.


In our response, we cited the substantial evidence that farmed Salmon are much higher in manmade pollutants (PCBs and dioxins).


Key Points

  • Study finds a majority of “wild” Salmon was farm-raised.
  • Findings affirm that wild Salmon possess superior fat profiles, compared with farmed fish.
  • Farmed Salmon are being fed increasing proportions of vegetable oil, which raises the proportion of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats in the fish.

We didn’t even mention other purity problems with farmed Salmon, such as the use of antibiotics and pesticides, or negative environmental impacts such as sea lice, farm escapes, and degradation of the areas surrounding salmon farms. For more information on these issues, search our newsletter archives.


Now, a new study affirms prior findings thatin addition to superior puritywild Salmon offer strong nutritional advantages and a reputation for superiority that leads many marketers to mislabel farmed Salmon as wild.


The fat-profile pitfalls of farmed Salmon: a primer

Both wild and farmed Salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, but clinical tests indicate that the benefits of the omega-3s in farmed Salmon are substantially offset by their unnaturally high omega-6 content.


Most farmed Salmon are fed very high-fat diets, so they’ll grow to harvest size quickly.


These diets often include mixtures of grains, vegetable oils, fish meal, and fish oil, which are far from natural for Salmon in the wild.


As a result of these diets, and lack of exercise compared with wild Salmon, farmed Salmon contain much more total fat than most wild Salmon.


And, compared with wild Salmon, farmed Salmon have much higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids. This is bad, because omega-6s and omega-3s have to pass through the same narrow metabolic bottleneck to get into your cell membranes.


In addition, eating farmed Salmon adds to the extreme excess of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in the typical American diet. This imbalance is associated with major diseases promoted by chronic inflammation: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and more.


And the negative effects of the unnatural fat profile of farmed Salmon have been demonstrated in a human study.


As we reported early in 2006, Norwegian researchers found that feeding men farmed Salmon actually raised their blood levels of inflammatory immune-system chemicals associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease (See “Farmed Salmon's Diet Yields Unhealthful Cardiovascular Effects”).


The results of this clinical study showed that the pro-inflammatory impact of eating farmed Salmon rose in tandem with the proportion of omega-6-rich plant matter (grains and vegetable oils) in the fishes’ diets.


Proportion of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats rising in farmed Salmon

According to industry insiders, matters are only getting worse with regard to the undesirably high proportion of omega-6 fats in farmed Salmon.


This is happening because Salmon farmers are under growing public pressure to increase the sustainability of their operations, by relying less on fish-based feed.


Vacuuming fish from the seas

More than 1.2 billion pounds of menhaden are vacuumedquite literallyfrom bays and Gulf of Mexico waters off Louisiana and Texas.


These tiny, herring-like fish are used to make fishmeal for the livestock and fish-farming industries (including Salmon farms), and to make fish oil supplements.


The state of Texas is considering a ban on commercial harvesting of menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico, for three reasons:

  • Menhaden consume harmful algae blooms in the Gulf, caused by agricultural run off from Midwestern farms.
  • Menhaden form the basis of the food chain for many fish species in the Gulf.
  • Menhaden are important bait fish for the sport fishing industry.

The problem for Salmon farmers is that the small fish used to make commercial feed for farmed Salmone.g., herring, sardines, and menhadenare critical to the survival of some subsistence fishing communities, and to predator species like tuna, which also constitute major human food sources.


It takes several pounds of small prey fish to produce one pound of farmed Salmon, and this imbalance raises serious concerns about over-fishing of these critical species.


In response to sustainability concernsand to cut production costsmajor makers of Salmon feed are increasing the proportion of grains and vegetable oils in their products.


The trend was reported last week in the seafood industry web site Intrafish.com:

  • Over the past three yearsthe amount of fishmeal and fish oil going into [feed maker Skretting’s] products shrank by 11 percent and 20 percent, respectively
  • Skretting is not alone… in using more raw vegetable materials and less raw marine materials [fish meal and fish oil]
  • “...every influential feed company is increasing the percentage of rape [canola] and soy oil going into their products” (Olsen KE 2008)

Salmon farmers are caught in a dilemma. They’re well aware that consumers want omega-3s, but they feel pressure to increase their products’ sustainability by reducing the amount of fish-based feedhence the amount of omega-3sin their Salmon chow.


But Salmon farmers know that most consumers are unaware of the negative effects of eating foods high in omega-6s, or that these fats block absorption of omega-3s.


Accordingly, fish farmers believe they will suffer no backlash if their response to pressures for increased sustainability degrades the nutritional quality of their product.


Study affirms nutritional superiority of wild Salmon

Four years ago, a US-Canadian research team analyzed wild and farmed Salmon, and their finding that wild Salmon is considerably more pure than farmed fish made headlines (Foran JA et al. 2004).


But most media reports overlooked the researchers’ subsequent nutritional findings:

  • Compared with the wild Salmon they analyzed, farmed Salmon were more than twice as high in total fat, which also makes it higher in calories.
  • Wild Salmon had a much higher ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats: about 10 parts omega-3s to one part omega-6s in wild Salmon, versus only 3.5 parts omega-3s to one part omega-6s in farmed Salmon (Hamilton MC et al. 2005).

This finding was echoed by a Canadian team, who tested farmed Salmon and found it much higher in total fat and omega-6s, compared with wild Salmon (Blanchet C et al. 2005).


This month, an international team published a paper on scientific methods to differentiate wild Atlantic Salmon from farmed Atlantic Salmon, in order to detect fraud by fish marketers (Thomas F et al. 2008).


In the course of the study, they reported the fatty acid profiles of 171 Atlantic Salmon, including farmed and wild fish of this specific species.

Note: As a distinct species, Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) possess fatty acid profiles that differ from the five species of Pacific Salmon
Sockeye, King, Silver, Pink, and Chumwhose fat profiles also vary by species. Wild Atlantic Salmon is scarce worldwide, and is virtually unavailable in US food markets.


As the authors described the sampling, "Salmon were collected from several farms having different farming practices, and fishermen were asked to collect wild [Atlantic] Salmon in different regions. A further sample set composed of 54 [Atlantic] Salmon was collected by the scientific partners in markets or supermarkets in France, Italy, Norway, or the United Kingdom."


For every fish collected, the researchers recorded key information: Salmon species, exact origin (wild or farmed), geographical location, season and date of collection, age, sex, weight, length, water temperature, type of feed for farmed fish, and more.


The analysis conducted for the new study showed that on average, wild and farmed [Atlantic] Salmon had the same levels of omega-3s (about one-fourth of total fatty acids)a finding contrary to earlier ones showing higher levels of omega-3s in farmed Salmon (Thomas F et al. 2008).


This change could well reflect the shift in the composition of farmed Salmon feed toward vegetable matter, reported above.

And the new research showed that, compared with farmed Salmon, wild Salmon had a much more favorable omega-3/omega-6 ratio:

  • Farmed Atlantic Salmon had an omega-3/omega-6 ratio of 6.5 to 1 (26% omega-3 fat / 4.4% omega-6 fat).
  • Wild Atlantic Salmon had an omega-3/omega-6 ratio of 19 to 1 (26.7% omega-3 fat / 1.4% omega-6 fat).

This means that the omega-3/omega-6 ratio in wild Atlantic Salmon was about three times higher than in farmed Atlantic Salmon… a very substantial advantage, given the extreme omega-6 overload in American diets (Thomas F et al. 2008).


New analysis also finds Salmon-labeling fraud
Unsurprisingly, the international team concluded that, among other biochemical markers (carbon isotopes) having a high proportion of omega-6 fat accurately identifies Salmon as farmed… results that affirm all prior findings on this subject.


Among the 54 Atlantic Salmon obtained from public food markets, 43 were labeled “farmed” and 11 samples were labeled “wild”.


And the tests showed that 9 out of 11 samples labeled “wild” at point of sale were actually farmed Salmon or Trout (Thomas F et al. 2008).


This comes as little surprise, since fraud is widespread.


In 2004, we saw farmed Salmon being deliberately mislabeled as wild Pacific Salmon at New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, and told food columnist Marion Burros of The New York Times. Our tip prompted an investigation by Times reporters, who found pervasive mislabeling of farmed Salmon in supermarkets.


The fraud was still common when a leading consumer magazine re-investigated the story in 2006 (see “Consumer Watchdog Finds 'Wild' Salmon Scam Remains Routine”).


As the international team wrote, with regard to the farmed Salmon that was fraudulently labeled wild Salmon, “…when the… [omega-6 linoleic acid]… content is also taken into account… these… samples clearly have too high a… [omega-6 linoleic acid]… content to be considered as wild and can be putatively identified as mislabeled” (Thomas F et al. 2008).


This was because prior analyses of fish known to be farmed or wild had already proven that the presence of certain naturally-occurring carbon isotopes, combined with a high level of omega-6 fats, identifies farm-raised Salmon reliably (Aursand M et al. 2000).


The new findings confirm those findings, as they concluded “…[analysis of the isotopes and fatty acids in Salmon] is appropriate for assessing whether a sample is wild or farmed… it is now possible to have some degree of confidence in defining whether a fish is of wild or farmed origin…” (Thomas F et al. 2008).


Clearly, finding real wild Salmon is an iffy proposition, so it pays to select a trusted, recommended supplier.


As a company founded by a veteran Salmon fisherman, it wouldn’t even cross our minds to sell anything but wild Alaskan Salmon… the world’s best, by far.


But you needn’t take our word for it. Our Salmon is certified as authentic wild Alaskan by the Marine Stewardship Council, which uses chain-of-custody audits to verify its origin.



Sources

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