Is organic farmed salmon healthier than standard farmed salmon?
(NaturalHealth365) For people trying to live a healthy lifestyle, the phrase “organic salmon” has an appealing ring to it. Salmon is the darling of nutritionists and physicians, and for good reason – this cold-water fish is packed with high-quality protein, beneficial fatty acids and vitamins. And, if it’s “organic,” as well? (Sounds like a health bonanza!)
Not so fast. It turns out that “organic” salmon may not be as beneficial as it sounds. Read on to discover why.
Conventional versus “organically” farmed salmon – is there a difference?
While the USDA is poised to approve the production and sale of organic farmed salmon in the near future, no U.S. company is currently permitted to use the “organic” label for wild or farmed seafood. Since Canada and the EU already have organic standards, some U.S. stores do carry imported “organic” salmon; others will wait for USDA rules to be put in place before they start selling organic salmon.
Not only is “organic” salmon not nearly as healthful as wild-caught salmon, but it may not offer any real advantages over conventionally farmed salmon.
What does “raised organically” really mean?
Even though the USDA hasn’t yet approved the use of the “certified organic” label for salmon, you may see salmon billed as “sustainable” and “raised organically.” These fish are raised in ocean pens, just like conventional farmed salmon – but with a difference in the feed they are given.
While wild salmon eat a varied natural diet of insects, smaller fish, squid and shrimp, both conventionally farmed salmon and “raised organically” salmon are fed commercial salmon “chow” – which goes heavy on grains, soy oils and yeast. The fact that “sustainable” or “raised organically” salmon get organic wheat – rather than conventional grain – doesn’t do all that much to cancel out the negative effects of this diet.
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Farmed salmon are nutritionally inferior and higher in pollutants
As a result of this unnatural diet, both types of farmed salmon have unhealthier fatty acid profiles, as compared to wild salmon. While farmed salmon contain some beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, the benefits are reduced by their accompanying higher levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
And, compared to wild-caught salmon, both conventionally farmed and organically farmed salmon have higher levels of harmful PCBS.
In addition, both farm-raised and “organic” salmon are given synthetic versions of astaxanthin – the naturally-occurring antioxidant carotenoid that gives salmon flesh its color – for the purpose of mimicking the vivid reddish-orange hue of wild salmon that have consumed a healthy, natural diet.
What do the pending USDA organic standards allow?
The proposed USDA rules require that any non-aquatic feed must be certified organic – with the exception of supplemental vitamins and minerals. But, up to a quarter of the feed would be allowed to consist of “sustainably wild-caught fish,” which environmentalists fear could place a burden on wild fish populations.
The USDA standards would allow “certified organic” fish to be raised in standard ocean net pens, of the type used in conventional salmon farms. In other words, the salmon would be confined to overcrowded pens that produce vast amounts of fish waste, uneaten food and debris that pollute the sea floor and threaten the health of local marine life.
Pens are normally placed in or near migration routes, where passing wild salmon are susceptible to the parasitic sea lice and viruses that can infest farmed salmon. In fact, wild Atlantic salmon populations have been decimated by diseases spread by salmon farms in Norway, Scotland and Ireland.
Unbelievable fact: in a bizarre and unfair irony, wild fish – that have spent their entire life cycle roaming the rivers and open seas and feeding exclusively from natural sources – will not be permitted to be labeled “organic.”
One thing seems clear: “organic” salmon – which costs as much as wild-caught salmon – is not much better than conventional salmon when it comes to health benefits to consumers or the environment.
Editor’s note: The only salmon I have been eating lately is the wild sockeye salmon from Vital Choice Wild Seafood. Click here to learn more.
Nutritionally, sockeye salmon gives you tremendous “bang for the buck.”
Each 6-oz. serving provides 1500 to 2000 mgs of the beneficial fatty acids EPA and DHA – 6 to 8 times the minimum daily intake recommended by most world health authorities. The same serving also contains about 1100 I.U. of vitamin D, in the optimal D-3 form – almost double the child-to-adult US RDA of 600 IU. This is far more than the vitamin D content found in farm-raised salmon – or fortified milk, for that matter.
A 6-oz. serving of wild-caught sockeye salmon also provides 6 to 7 mgs of naturally-occurring astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant carotenoid.
But, be warned against wild salmon ‘scams’
Although wild-caught salmon is undoubtedly the optimal choice for nutrition and taste, you must beware of “imposter” salmon. In a report released by the conservation group Oceana, researchers collected 82 samples of supposedly “wild-caught” salmon from restaurants and grocery stores – and found that 43 percent were actually mislabeled.
69 percent of the labeling involved farmed Atlantic salmon being billed as “wild-caught,” the remainder involved substituting inferior Pacific salmon – such as chum – for sockeye and king salmon.
The problem was especially pronounced in restaurants and markets of small vendors; surprisingly, salmon sold by large grocery stores and chains was more likely to be honestly labeled. One way to bypass the chance of being scammed is to purchase fresh salmon during the Alaskan salmon harvest season, which runs from April through September.
Another option is to buy canned Alaskan salmon – since the state doesn’t allow salmon farming, all salmon caught there must, by definition, be wild.
The takeaway: although organic salmon sounds like a healthy choice, it offers few benefits over conventional salmon, and none whatsoever over wild-caught salmon.