Industrially-farmed Atlantic salmon is marketed as a so-called super food, but it is not good for you. Factors of greatest concern include:
- Ethoxyquin (banned in Europe) added to fish food to control combustion in transport
- Use of antibiotics to manage disease in high-density pens
- High levels of omega 6 fatty acids compared with wild-caught salmon
- Use of astaxanthin to colour the salmon flesh orange
There are ethical alternatives – read on!
What is Ethoxyquin? Why do they use it?
- A fish feed additive banned in the European Union out of concerns for health impacts in animals and humans has been found in Tasmanian salmon at concerning levels, say experts who are calling for tighter regulations.
- The compound, a synthetic antioxidant, was developed by Monsanto in the 1950s. It has been used to prevent fish meal from spontaneously combusting while being transported at sea.
What about antibiotics? How do the fish farms control diseases?
- Fish farms sometimes give the salmon antibiotics and animal drugs.
- Tasmanian companies Tassal and Huon Aquaculture used more than a tonne of antibiotics in 2022 disease outbreaks. Wild fish scavenged antibiotic-laced pellets below the salmon cages. Flathead caught 2km from a lease, near areas of recreational use, had antibiotics in their flesh above the mandatory reporting threshold, however monitoring reports were not made public until months after the disease outbreak, and then were published very obscurely.
- Since 2016, the Tasmanian salmon industry has used more than four tonnes of antibiotics to counter disease outbreaks. The CSIRO has reported serious concerns about the over-use of these drugs, as this increases human antibiotic resistance. There is evidence that Tassal tried to suppress publication of their reports to the EPA.
What about fatty acids?
- Typically, wild salmon have fewer calories, saturated fat and vitamins A and D than farmed salmon, but contain more protein.
- Wild salmon meat has an approximately equal amount of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid content. In farmed salmon, however, the fatty acid ratio is skewed, with omega 6 much higher than omega 3 fatty acid levels. Omega 6 fatty acid is already overabundant in western diets, especially high in processed foods, and considered by some nutritionists to be unhealthy for humans.
Is it true that farmed salmon are fed artificial dyes to improve their colour?
- Wild salmon eat a lot of shellfish high in a carotenoid called astaxanthin, which gives them their orange color. Farmed fish food, as well as wild fish meal, contains increasing proportions of meat, chicken and blood meal, poultry oil, vegetables, vitamins and minerals, which turns the salmon flesh grey. So salmon companies include astaxanthin in fish feed to produce the orange colour salmon eaters expect.
What alternatives are there to industrially-farmed Atlantic salmon?
- There are many alternatives to industrially-farmed Atlantic salmon. GoodFish: the Australian Good Food Guide lists several other types of fish you can try (although as an annual publication its information on some of the problems associated with farmed salmon is currently somewhat out of date).
- It is
not easy very difficultvirtually impossible to buy overseas-sourced wild-caught salmon in Tasmania. Reports suggest that it may be somewhat easier on the mainland.
- There is one boutique salmon farm that we know of in Tasmania – 41 Degrees South, near Deloraine. NOFF has commented in submissions to the Tasmanian Government that while there are many boutique wineries and distillieries, with strong government support, there appears to be only one boutique salmon farm, and no evidence of any significant government support for development of more.
- 41 Degrees South operates entirely on land, and while NOFF is not in a position to formally audit their operations or products, on the evidence of their website, and consistently positive reports from visitors, their operations are ethically and environmentally a very significant improvement on those of their much larger competitors.