Monday, April 11, 2005

Salmon: Is Wild Really Farmed?

The salmon story is high and wide, and getting bigger.

Headline from yesterday's New York Times front page:
Stores Say Wild Salmon, but Tests Say Farm Bred
(The NYTs link requires registration, but it's free.)

The story in a nutshell:
In March of this year, the NYTs tested salmon sold as wild at 8 NYC stores. Salmon at 6 of those 8 stores were found to be farm-raised, not wild as advertised.

Wild salmon can fetch as much as $29/lb; farm-raised from $5 to $12/lb.

Why is salmon making headlines lately?
The American Heart Association, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) along with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - by way of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines - are recommending we eat fish at least 2 times a week and up to daily (for people with coronary heart disease). One reason is that fish contain more of the heart healthy, inflammation-reducing, mood-mellowing, omega-3 fats than just about any food you can eat. Salmon ranks among the highest on the omega-3 scale. Salmon also tends to have less mercury than other high-ranking fish like mackerel, tuna, swordfish, shark, tilefish, etc.

So, eat your salmon.

But that increases demand for salmon. And salmon aren't found swishing up streams in winter. What to do? Farm them.

But farmed salmon lack the vibrant red color of wild salmon. What to do? Add color to the feed.

But some consumers aren't biting for a fish whose flesh color has been toyed with (The FDA requires salmon whose color has been enhanced by pigment be labeled as such), and whose heart-healthy fats are claimed to contain up to 16 times more cancer-causing PCBs that wild. What to do?

Lose the paper trail.

From the NYT's article:
  • One owner claimed his records did not go back to March 9th. (Four weeks ago?)
  • One owner said his sales clerks "must have gotten the salmon from the wrong pile in back."
  • One VP of retail operations said four of his vendors could not provide him with their paper trail.
  • One store manager said "Our salmon is from Canada. All wild salmon in Canada is farm raised." (What?)
  • One owner claimed his supplier sold him wild salmon; the supplier said it didn't.
  • One owner said "Sometimes when these fish come off the boat they get separated, and I got sent the wrong salmon from my supplier."
  • One supplier said his salesman had "made a mistake."
Even if the paper trail is standing in front of you:
  • A whole salmon sold to [a NYTs reporter] as wild was pulled from a box marked "farmed Canada".
    "I know you are looking at the label, but believe me, the clerk at [a NYC fish market] said. "Don't pay any attention to the label."

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