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Fishy Details
New Study Claims Cancer Risk In Salmon

January 14th, 2004

By Louis Wittig : eCureMe Staff Writer
January 12th, 2004 : Physician Reviewed

Consumers jittery over Mad Cow might want to think twice before substituting salmon for red meat. A study published on January 8th, in the journal Science, found that salmon raised from fish farms contain significantly more potentially cancer-causing pollutants than salmon caught in the wild.

700 wild and farm-raised salmon from across the globe were tested for PCBs (industrial chemicals used to build transformers), dioxins and banned pesticides. More toxic overall, farmed salmon were discovered to contain ten times more PCBs than wild salmon. The study attributes the difference in pollutant levels to the salmon’s diet. Wild salmon eat plants, shrimp and krill in ocean waters far from more polluted costal areas. Farmed salmon are fed a high protein feed made from smaller fish, which may contain pollutants. Farmed Salmon also tend to be grown in large pens, close to shore, where pollution is more prevalent.

With these levels, the study’s lead author Dr. David Carpenter, cautions that "even the cleanest of farmed salmon shouldn’t be eaten more than once or twice a month."

Carpenter’s advice to consumers is controversial among experts. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration assert that the study doesn’t prove farmed salmon is a threat to public health, pointing to the fact that the high PCB levels are within FDA guidelines. Study supporters counter by noting that the FDA’s PCB guidelines are out of date, and that levels in farmed salmon exceed stricter PCB rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The findings represent a quandary for consumers as well. In recent years, seafood has been touted as a lean source of protein. Salmon has enjoyed a particularly good reputation. High in heart healthy Omega-3 acids and low in another pollutant - mercury - since the 1980s, consumption of salmon has shot up 25%. The majority of salmon sold worldwide is farmed. In addition, farmed salmon tends to be less expensive than wild.

One way for consumers to reduce the risk is to remove the skin on a salmon filet before preparing it. Most pollutants are absorbed by the fish’s fatty skin, and the tests that found high toxin levels were performed on fish cuts that included skin.

E-mail Louis Wittig at

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