For years, salmon has been touted as a health food, and as a result, its consumption in the United States has surged. Fifty-two million Americans consume salmon once per month and 23 million eat salmon once a week. As of 2003, salmon had surpassed fish sticks as the third most commonly consumed fish product behind only shrimp and tuna fish.
The meteoric rise in consumption of this fish was made possible by the innovation of mass farming operations that raise salmon in open water caged environments or in closed tank settings. This dramatically reduced the price by significantly increasing volume.
Most people have heard that they should eat wild salmon over farm-raised salmon, but do you actually know the risks associated with eating farm-raised salmon?
The primary health concern stems from nasty chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These pesticide chemicals were banned in the United States in 1976 due to their cancer-causing potential and other negative health effects. Unfortunately, PCBs are persistent organic pollutants, which means that they take a very long time to leave our environment. They still exist in our oceans and waterways and are detectable in the flesh and fat of wild fish.
The high levels of PCBs found in farm-raised salmon come from their food supply. The salmon are fed a high-protein diet derived from smaller feeder fish. This process concentrates the PCBs to dangerously high amounts. How high?
The FDA Fails to Protect American Consumers
According to a study done by the Environmental Working Group, levels of PCBs in farm-raised salmon were 4.5 times higher than the upper limit set forth by the FDA for weekly consumption of fish. According to EPA standards, farm-raised salmon should have a warning label advising people not to eat it more than one time per month due to the toxic levels of PCBs it contains.
So why hasn’t there been a warning issued? Well, the EPA only sets standards for wild-caught salmon. It is the FDA’s job to set the standard for commercially raised fish, and their standard is 500 times less protective when it comes to PCB levels. No surprise that, once again, the FDA has failed to protect Americans from harm in favor of giving big business a break.
So besides the possible cancer risk, why are PCBs so harmful?
PCBs Increase Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
New research based on population analysis and PCB intake from fish has been surfacing directly linking PCB exposure to type 2 diabetes. Studies on human and animal cells show that certain types of PCBs alter key genes and proteins that effect insulin activity and inflammation, which is a critical part of the development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. This association is new and further research is needed to fully understand the connection, but the preliminary data is alarming. Considering that type 2 diabetes represents the fastest growing health threat to our country, this is a correlation worth looking into.
The bottom line: If you are going to eat salmon and cannot be absolutely sure that it is wild-caught, restrict it to one time per month. Pregnant women need to be even more careful about consuming farm-raised salmon because the effects of PCBs are more detrimental to a developing baby.