By Lauran Neergaard
WASHINGTON (AP) - Farm-raised salmon contain significantly more
dioxins and other potentially cancer-causing pollutants than do
salmon caught in the wild, says a major study that tested contaminants
in fish bought around the world.
Salmon farmed in Northern Europe had the most contaminants, followed
North America and Chile, according to the study released Thursday.
blames the feed used on fish farms for concentrating the ocean
Eating more than a meal of farm-raised salmon per month, depending
its country of origin, could slightly increase the risk of getting
cancer later in life, researchers conclude. They urge consumers
wild salmon and recommend that farmers change fish feed.
But the Food and Drug Administration said the levels of pollutants
in salmon are too low for serious concern. The agency urged Americans
not to let the new research, reported Thursday in the journal
frighten them into a diet change.
The debate is sure to confuse consumers, who long have been told
fish at least twice a week because it helps prevent heart disease.
Indeed, salmon is usually listed as a top choice because it is
particularly high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and low
completely different seafood contaminant, mercury.
Moreover, most farm-raised salmon sold in the United States comes
Chile - and the pollutant level in it was not too much higher
found in some wild-caught salmon.
The study ``will likely over-alarm people in this country,''
Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health, a specialist on nutrition
and chronic disease. ``To alarm people away from fish because
potential, at this point undocumented, risk of long-term cancer
does worry me.''
The study tested salmon raw, with the skin on. Removing the skin
grilling it removes a significant amount of PCBs, dioxins and
pollutants stored in fish fat, the FDA noted.
The average dioxin level in farmed-raised salmon was as 11 times
than that in wild salmon - 1.88 parts per billion compared with
ppb. For PCBs, the average was 36.6 ppb in farm-raised salmon
in wild salmon.
The government does not have one set level of dioxins and PCBs
considered safe in foods.
``We are certainly not telling people not to eat fish. ... We're
them to eat less farmed salmon,'' said David Carpenter of the
at Albany, N.Y., who tested 700 salmon from around the world.
In setting his consumption advice, Carpenter cited Environmental
Protection Agency guidelines that are far stricter than the FDA's
Farmed salmon eat lots of fish oil and meal made from just a
of ocean fish, which concentrates the contaminants they are exposed
while wild salmon eat a greater variety, Carpenter explained.
The salmon farming industry points out that all the pollutant
well within the FDA's legal limits and says other foods eaten
often, such as beef, are greater sources of exposure.
Raising salmon in floating pens is an industry that began just
decades ago but has helped the fish's popularity to soar, turning
from a seasonal to a year-round commodity. More than half the
salmon now is farmed. Farm-raised salmon sells for about $4 or
pound compared with $15 for wild salmon, said Alex Trent of the
group Salmon of the Americas.
``These fish don't have to be contaminated,'' said Jane Houlihan
Environmental Working Group, which wants salmon farms to switch
Trent said many farmers in the United States, Canada and Chile
slowly replacing some of the fish oil in salmon feed with soybean
canola oil to address the pollutants.
``PCB levels are coming down 10 to 20 percent a year. Every year
more steps,'' he said.
Farm-raised salmon contained significantly higher concentrations
pollutants, including dioxins, released when industrial waste
and PCBs, once widely used as insulating material, according to
Animals absorb those pollutants through the environment, storing
fat that people then eat. High levels are believed to increase
of certain cancers and, in pregnant or breast-feeding women, harm
developing brains of fetuses and infants.
One in two Americans will die of cardiovascular disease, a far
risk than the cancer concern, said nutritionist Alice Lichtenstein
the Agriculture Department's Human Nutrition Research Center at
Still, ``this was a beautiful study'' that does raise a concern
needs more attention, she said. ``The bottom-line message is to
to eat fish but consume a variety of different types.''
As for the geographic difference in contaminant levels, ocean
follows a similar pattern. Europe was industrialized before North
then South America, and presumably each region uses salmon feed
local ocean fish.
The study was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
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