She calls to you, cool and tempting.
Framed in the soft orange glow of a setting sun, her scent speaks of sea foam. You touch and feel her firm, yet gentle curves that bespeak a streamlined grace. You bring her closer and she whispers tasty images.
The siren song is irresistible.
You lay down your dollars and buy the filet.
The label reads: “Fresh Atlantic Salmon”.
But what exactly have you bought?
If it says Atlantic salmon, it is not wild. Since true Atlantic salmon is critically endangered, the Atlantic salmon sold in the United States is farmed. It may also be genetically modified (GMO), because current labeling laws to not require any disclosure on that front. It is estimated that approximately 70% of all processed foods contain GMOs in one form or another. A great place for governmental transparency to start would be the grocery store.
If it is not wild caught, then what exactly have you bought?
It is farmed, but the real question is it also pharm’d?
Population pressures and consumer predilections continue to drive the farming aquaculture. China is currently the world leader and produces about 70% of the world’s aquaculture. Initially, the bulk of farmed fish were fed a diet of wild caught smaller fish; following the natural law that big fish eat little fish. Approximately one third of all the small wild fish caught are used to produce fish meal and fish oil which is used not only to support aquaculture, but also used in the pursuit of terrestrial animal husbandry.
However, since approximately 50% of the world’s seafood is now the product of aquaculture, producers are now looking to cheaper alternatives. This has caused a shift in the feeding practices from the traditional diets of these animals to one that is based on more plant based material and commercial feeds.
These feeds are predominately manufactured from major crops such as soy and corn. The fish oils that have been replaced are the industrially processed vegetable oils primarily made from soy, canola, palm, and sunflower sources. The top five crops used in commercial aquaculture feeds are canola, soybean, corn, nuts and wheat; canola and soy alone account for over 50% of all the oils used.
This practice brings to the forefront two important considerations. Firstly, by replacing the natural fish oils with plant based alternatives; the balance of critically important polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is thrown askew. The result is a product that is often deficient in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) compared to its wild-based alternative. Such PUFAs are responsible for many of the health benefits associated with seafood consumption.
Such practices also serve to lower the absolute amounts of omega-3 PUFAs that also contribute to the healthful benefits we observe in diets rich in marine sourced comestibles. The result is a food source that is significantly higher in its omega 6:3 ratio. This is a characteristic of the many adulterated and processed foods found in the modern Western diet. Such a diet exhibits an obscenely elevated omega 6:3 ratio. There is evidence that this favors the development of a pro-inflammatory environment from which the disabilities and diseases associated with the standard American diet are linked.
The final consideration is the raw ingredients used in the creation of the commercial feeds. Almost 99% of the soy grown, and approximately 90% of the corn and canola raised, are GMO varieties. These GMO variants have been produced to be resistant to the herbicide Round-up. The finale in your filet is accumulation of a recognized potential carcinogen (recent World Health Organization declaration, 2015) in the fish. Forget the tarragon Hollandaise, you just got a free side of glyphosate.
All of which serves to highlight the critical importance of proper sourcing of ingredients. What on the surface may appear to be succulently, tastefully, tempting and healthful beyond measure may prove to be a siren song of obfuscation and illusion. Approach with trepidation and a weather eye the labels accompanying our contemporary comestibles. For as Odysseus himself observed; “Skepticism is as much the result of knowledge, as knowledge is of skepticism.”
Bittman, M. (2008, November 15). A Seafood Snob Ponders the Future of Fish. Retrieved from New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/weekinreview/16bittman.html?scp=1&sq=bittman%20farm-raised&st=cse
Bittman, M. (2009, April 10). The Bottom Line on Salmon. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/10/the-bottom-line-on-salmon/?_r=0
Fry, J. P., Love, D. C., MacDonald, G. K., West, P. C., Engstrom, P. M., Nachman, K. E., & Lawrence, R. S. (2016). Environmental health impacts of feeding crops to farmed fish. Environmental International, 91:201-214.
Thompson, M. (2015, March 29). WHO: Long-cleared Round-up Ingredient ‘Probably’ Causes Cancer. Retrieved from pbs.org: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/roundup-ingredient-probably-carcinogenic-humans/
Washington State Department of Health. (2017, January 23). Farmed versus wild salmon. Retrieved from Washington State Department of Health: http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Food/Fish/FarmedSalmon