Farmed Salmon

Article in INSHORE IRELAND, June 2008 by Vera Heffernan – BIM

We are told to eat farmed salmon – because it’s full of Omega-3. Then we are told not to because it might not be as safe as other fish as it supposedly contains nasty things such as PCBs and other toxic chemicals! It is high time that this myth, creating confusion over the role of farmed salmon consumption in a safe and healthy died, is dispelled once and for all

‘Toxic chemicals’ is a meaningless term unless placed in its proper context. Apples contain acetone, isopropanol and cyanide, but it’s the dose that counts. Let’s look at this issue with regard to Irish farmed salmon and put it all into perspective. Is there really a risk of PCB levels in farmed salmon causing health risks to consumers?

PCBs (polycholorinated biphenyls) are persistant environmental contaminants that accumulate in animal fats and as such can be present at levels of concern. They are a legacy of industrial practice now banned and have entered the food supply mostly through meat, eggs, dairy products and fish. They tend to concentrate in the animals higher on the food chain, with humans being the highest.

Numerous independent research reports have concluded that the PCB levels in Irish farmed salmon are not a cause of concern. In fact, European-wide studies have shown that levels of PCBs and dioxins in the environment, and consequently in food, have decreased in recent years.

Below current limits

In 2007, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), reassured Irish consumers that levels of potentially harmful contaminants in a variety of fish products available on the Irish market were well below current limits set by the EU and international watchdogs, This advice followed the publication of the result into the levels of dioxins, furans, PCBs and brominated flame retardants in fresh and processed fish products.

Results of this study are in line with those from previous studies by FSAI in 2002 and BIM in 2004. The BIM study reported an average level of 1.75 ng WHO TEQ/kg wet weight, which is well below the maximum EU limit of 4.0 ng WHO TEQ/kg wet weight.

To put this figure into context, one nanogram (ng) per kilogramme is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into 20 tow metre-deep Olympic-size swimming pool, or one second of time in approximately 31,700 years.

So, why are PCBs in farmed salmon continually being portrayed in such a scary manner?

Increasingly, consumers are being warned by advocacy groups and others to eliminate or minimise their consumption of certain species, including farmed salmon, due to carcinogenic risks associated with PCBs and the other trace compounds we have talked about.

The reality is that the levels are so low the issue hardly merits attention, let alone an altering of eating habits away from a potentially life saving food. To claim that eating Irish farmed salmon can cause health risks in scaremongering, pure and simple. We can state this as a fact.


Sensational food news plays on the natural fears we all have regarding dreaded things like cancer. We all tend to exaggerate the actual risks in these circumstances. Unfortunately, the one real risk in all of this is that of duped associated with eating Irish farmed salmon.

Everyday more and more research is published demonstrating the Omega-3 based health benefits to be had from eating farmed salmon. Regularly including Irish farmed salmon in your diet will significantly contribute to a reduction in your risk of developing coronary heart disease, and substantially lessens your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other mental health disorders, according to leading international scientist, Professor Michael Crawford, founder and Director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, London Metropolitan University.

Omega-3 deficiency

Professor Crawford claims that mental health illness, associated with Omega-3 deficiency, is ‘the most pressing health issue of the 21st century’. During the World Seafood Congress, held in Dublin in September 2007, Alan Reilly, Deputy Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority, noted that in Ireland people are fifty times more likely to develop depression than in Japan where seafood consumption is very high. Even now, despite all we know, just 20% of Irish people eat fish twice weekly, the minimum level for any benefit to be seen.

Human response to risk is not straightforward. It is widely known that human perception of risk is often based more on intuition and instinct that on facts. When a risk is perceived as being outside our control such as that posed by PCBs the greater is the dread factor.

The anti-salmon farming campaigners know this perfectly well and exploit this common human weakness cynically. Ironically, if one actually thinks about the real risks we willingly choose for ourselves in our everyday lives, such as driving a car or eating a high saturated fat food product, we are engaging in practices that have a genuinely high risk factor. Just look at the statistics on road accidents or heart disease. And yet we can be manipulated into avoiding a food which can actually reduce our chances of dying from a heart attack by a whopping 36%!

So much for the farmed salmon are not safe to eat myth at this stage we can safely say that the benefits of farmed salmon consumption are very real and by far exceed and potential risk, which is so tiny as to be infinitesimal.