by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fish

Aug 5 2022

Weekend reading: Farmed salmon

Douglas Frantz & Catherine Collins.  Salmon Wars: The Dark Underbelly of America’s Favorite Fish.  Henry Holt, 2022.  (355 pages)

Salmon Wars

I was asked to do a blurb for this one.  Here’s what I said:

Salmon Wars is a deep dive into the damage caused by current fish-farming methods to ocean environments, wild fish and their habitats, and to the farmed fish themselves.  It is also a dismal account of the failure of governments to stop such practices.  Salmon farming needs reform.  Until it does, read this book, and you will never eat farmed salmon again.

As for what to do about the hazards of salmon farming—lice, pollution, reduction of wild salmon, escape from pens, requirement for feeder fish and the depletion of those stocks, the authors have three suggestions:

(1) Know the risks and rewards of eating farmed salmon and insist on more transparency.

(2) Take responsibility for insisting on better ways of raising farmed salmon.

And (3)

The third step is for governments to stop putting a thumb on the scale when weighing economic interests versus the public wellbeing.  Governments should take responsibility for protecting the environment and public health.  They should adopt strict curbs on the use of chemicals by salmon farmers.  They should require notification of all relevant authorities of every escape or suspected escape, and those reports should be made public.  Food labels should be thorough, accurate, and reflect how the salmon was raised…There must be similar global efforts to protect the public health and the welfare of salmon.

This is a hard-hitting book and, as you might expect, it’s gotten some pushback.

Saving Seafood, a group that “conducts media and public relations outreach on behalf of the seafood industry,” says “New ‘Salmon Wars’ Book Is Full of Fictions. Here Are the Facts.”  Here are a couple of examples:

FICTION: Farmed salmon are crammed into cages.

FACT: Salmon occupy less than 4 percent of a typical marine cage. Farmers intentionally keep stocking densities low so fish have room to swim, grow, and mimic natural schooling patterns.

Farmers take great care to ensure the well-being of their salmon. Fish are vaccinated against several diseases, and pristine marine cage conditions are ensured with proper siting, regular fallowing (leaving sites unused), underwater cameras, and diver inspections.

FICTION: Farmed salmon are doused with pesticides and antibiotics.

FACT: Antibiotic use on salmon farms is far lower than that of any other agricultural animal producing industry in the world. In the rare instances when treatment is necessary, it is prescribed and overseen by licensed veterinarians under the oversight of government regulators.

In 2012 I visited a salmon farm above the Arctic Circle in Norway’s and wrote a post about it.

That one looked pretty good.  Now?  Others?  Who knows?

My recommendation: Visit one if you can.  Short of that, read this book.  Than decide what you think are the facts.

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May 12 2022

Annals of food fraud: eel smuggling

I am indebted to Politico Morning Agriculture (behind a paywall but try Twitter) for this riveting item: Major Seafood Dealer and Eight Individuals Indicted for International Wildlife Trafficking

The Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section, unsealed an indictment charging a major seafood distributor and eight of its employees and associates with smuggling, Lacey Act violations and conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, stemming from their trafficking in large volumes of highly imperiled eels.

The mind boggles.

Who knew that eel poaching and smuggling are major wildlife trafficking problems.

With respect to European eels, exporting them has been illegal since 2010.  But wait.  The indictment gets better:

Despite this ban…the defendants conspired to unlawfully smuggle large quantities of live baby European eels out of Europe, to their eel-rearing factory in China. After rearing the baby eels to maturity, defendants’ Chinese facility would then slaughter and process the eels for shipping to the United States, to be sold as sushi products.

It ends with this caveat:  An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

I’m due to be called for jury duty.  Is this what I’m in for?

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May 6 2021

More on toxic metals, this time in Red Sea fish

An article in Food Navigator—Asia got my attention:  “A study by researchers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and China has found that the levels of iron, chromium, cadmium and nickel in fish caught from the Red Sea exceeded the levels recommended by various authorities such as the EU, FAO, and WHO.”

Heavy metals are not just in baby foods (see post from a couple of days ago).

Now they are a problem in Red Sea fish.

This is no surprise.  Recall the enormous effort needed to  extract the 1300-foot container ship, Ever Given, from the banks of the Suez Canal.

Hundreds of ships going through the Red Sea and the Canal every week, all of them dumping waste water.

An article in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences observes that the Red Sea environment is heavily contaminated with heavy metals; these accumulate in fish muscles.

The concentrations of Cr, Fe, Ni and Cd, analyzed in this study were higher than other heavy metals due to the overloading of industrial waste and the disposal of the water from Jeddah. Mn, Cu, and Pb concentrations, however, were far below the levels recommended by various authorities…It was concluded that the fishes captured from Jeddah Coast, Red Sea, are still safe for human consumption, but the amount consumed should be controlled under the FAO/WHO guidelines.

So–it’s up to you to protect yourself from contaminated fish.

How about international shipping policies that restrict what ships can dump into international waters?

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Jul 8 2019

Industry-funded review of the week: Seafood!

Seafood intake and the development of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  Bjorn Liaset, Jannike Øyen, Hélène Jacques, Karsten Kristiansen and Lise Madsen. Nutrition Research Reviews (2019), 32, 146–167.

Conclusion: Evidence from intervention trials and animal studies suggests that frequent intake of lean seafood, as compared with intake of terrestrial meats, reduces energy intake by 4–9%, sufficient to prevent a positive energy balance and obesity. At equal energy intake, lean seafood reduces fasting and postprandial risk markers of insulin resistance, and improves insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant adults… More studies are needed to confirm the dietary effects on energy intake, obesity and insulin resistance.”

Funding: The present review was financially supported by The Norwegian Seafood Research Fund…The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Comment:  It is understandable that the Norwegian seafood industry would support research to promote seafood consumption.  Seafood is a demonstrably good source of animal protein but how good, how essential, and how environmentally sustainable are highly debatable.  To the authors’ credit, they acknowledge the debate when they admit that “more studies are needed….”  Industry-funded studies tend to put a positive spin on equivocal research, as this one does [I provide evidence for these views in Unsavory Truth].

Apr 4 2019

Coming soon to a supermarket near you? GMO salmon

Now that the FDA has approved production of GMO salmon, here they come.  Next month, a land-enclosed fish farm in Indiana will start raising these fish.

These, you will recall, are salmon bioengineered to grow throughout the year.  They end up much bigger than wild salmon.

These have been a long time coming.  As I’ve written previously,

One big question with farmed salmon is what to feed them.  They need sources of color (there’s a dye, asthaxanthin, for that) and of omega-3 fatty acids (other fish?).

Indiana is the leading soybean-producing state.  Maybe these salmon have a handy food source?

Apr 2 2019

Uh-oh. Salmon farms are not meeting eco-certification standards

Here’s a report that’s been sitting in my “to post” file way too long.

This SeaChoice report is another blow to the reputation of farmed salmon:

SeaChoice looked at audits of 257 salmon farms between 2014 and 2018 to see whether the farms met standards of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.  To be certified, farms must meet 100% of the standards.

Some did, but most did not.  The results?

Farmed salmon raise many environmental issues.  If these data are correct, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council needs to do a much more rigorous job—and be much more critical—of salmon farms seeking certification.

Caveat emptor.

Tomorrow: what’s happening with GMO salmon.

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Mar 6 2019

Seafood fraud again and again

Seafood fraud, long a problem (I wrote about it in What to Eat), is still a problem.  The latest evidence comes from a report from the New York State Attorney General.

Investigators tested fish and found widespread mislabeling of just about every type of fish except striped bass.

I wish the figure displayed percentages instead of absolute numbers, but you get the idea.  Examples:

  • Lemon sole       87.5%
  • Red snapper     67.0%
  • “Wild” salmon  27.6% (in quotes because some was farmed)

Overall, the investigation found 27% of seafood purchases to be mislabeled.  Some conclusions:

  • Mislabeling was worse at some supermarkets more than others; for example, five chains had mislabeling rates of 50% or higher.
  • Some fish are mislabeled more than others, especially lemon sole, red snapper, and grouper.
  • Substitutes were cheaper, less desirable fish, sometimes with higher levels of mercury.
  • Mislabeling was common throughout the state, but the mislabeling rate for New York City was nearly 43%.

If ever there was a call for caveat emptor, this is it.

What to do?  Ask.  Complain. Demand regulation.

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Jul 20 2018

Weekend reading: Paul Greenberg’s The Omega Principle

Paul Greenberg.  The Omega Principle: Seafood and the Quest for a Long Life and a Healthier Planet.  Penguin Press, 2018.

This is the third installment of Paul Greenberg’s fish trilogy (the previous two are Four Fish and American Catch, both also well worth the read).

This one sounds like a book about nutrition—a nutrient—but it’s not.  It may have started out that way, as a book about omega-3 fatty acids whose principal dietary source is fish, but Greenberg soon figured out that claims for the miraculous health benefits of omega-3s don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Instead, he uses omega-3s as an organizing framework for discussing how we use and misuse fish for industrial purposes.  To do this, he travels.  He goes to the Mediterranean to examine what happens to anchovies, Peru to see what happens to anchoveta, to the Antarctic to see what happens to krill.

His point?  If we destroy the bottom of the seafood chain to make fishmeal or fertilizer, we destroy the ecology of fish higher up on the food chain.

Greenberg is a lively, entertaining writer who tells great fish tales in pursuit of a serious message: if we want food in our future, we need to eat lower on the food chain.

And the book comes with recipes.  My favorite: Roulades of Antarctic penguin breast.  It begins: “Never make this recipe, please.”

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