For years salmon has been touted as a great health food and as a result its consumption in the United States has surged. 52 million Americans consume salmon once per month and 23 million Americans eat salmon once weekly. As of 2003 salmon had surpassed fish sticks as the third most commonly consumed fish product behind only shrimp and tuna fish.
The meteoric rise in consumption of this fish was made possible by the innovation of mass farming operations that raise salmon in open water caged environments or in closed tank settings. This dramatically reduced the price by significantly increasing volume.
Most people have heard that they should eat wild salmon over farm raised salmon but do you actually know the risks associated with eating the farm raised variety? Let’s take a closer look.
The primary health concern stems from nasty chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s). These pesticide chemicals were banned in the United States in 1976 due to its cancer causing potential and other negative health effects. Unfortunately, PCB’s are a persistent organic pollutant which means that they take a very long time to leave our environment. They still exist in our oceans and waterways and are detectable in the flesh and fat of wild fish.
The high levels of PCB’s found in farm raised salmon come from their food supply. They are fed a high protein diet derived from smaller feeder fish. This process concentrates the PCB’s to dangerously high amounts. How high?
According to a study done by the Environmental Working Group levels of PCB’s in farm raised salmon were 4.5x higher than the upper limit set forth by the FDA for weekly consumption of fish. According to the EPA standards farm raised salmon should have a warning label advising people not to eat it more than 1x per month due to the toxic levels of PCB’s. So why hasn’t there been a warning issued? Well, the EPA only set standards for wild caught salmon. It is the FDA’s job to set the standard for commercially raised fish and their standard is 500x less protective when it comes to PCB levels.
So besides the possible cancer risk, why are PCB’s so harmful?
Type II Diabetes:
New research based on population analysis and PCB intake from fish has been surfacing directly linking PCB exposure to Type II diabetes. Studies on human and animal cells show that certain types of PCB’s alter key genes and proteins that effect insulin activity and inflammation which is a critical part of the development of metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes. This association is new and further research is needed to fully understand the connection but the preliminary data is alarming.
Considering that Type II diabetes represents the fastest growing health threat to our country this is a correlation worth looking into. If you are going to eat salmon and cannot be absolutely sure that it is wild caught restrict it to one time per month. Pregnant mom’s need to be even more careful about consuming farm raised salmon because the effects of PCB’s are more detrimental to a developing baby.