Benefits of Omega-3s, new data on safety of farmed and wild salmon good news for consumers

Dieticians, scientists debunk myths about farmed salmon with good news for consumers
September 22, 2004

While the recent news has been full of good things about omega-3 fatty acids and their benefits to health, there has also been a lot of news about potentially harmful contaminants in some seafood, one of the best omega-3 sources.  Public health experts say the result is confusion that is not good for consumers.

"The significant benefits of omega-3 fatty acids to heart health alone are well worth a bit of time to get the facts straight," says Dr. Keith Ayoob, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.

Mercury, which has been a problem for some other fish, is not a problem in farmed or wild salmon.  But, Ayoob says, some consumers appear to be confused about this, which may cause them to forgo the substantial benefits of salmon. "I want consumers to know the facts and the facts about farmed salmon are very positive for the whole family," he adds.

Salmon, for instance, is one of the best sources of omega-3.  "In addition to having three to four times the amount of other omega-3 containing fish, it's inexpensive and readily available," says Kathleen Zelman, registered dietitian in Marietta, GA.  "And perhaps best of all for the diet weary, it is easy to prepare and tastes great."

"We know that eating salmon is one of the best ways you can protect your heart, and that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States today.  So, it's important to know the facts.  And the facts tell us that salmon is a great food to eat for your health," Ayoob says.

Other contaminants, such as PCBs that were spotlighted in a study done almost three years ago but published just this year, have added to the confusion.  That study said farmed salmon had several times the PCBs of wild salmon.  Although even the highest levels were a fraction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tolerance, the authors advised consumers to eat wild and not farmed salmon.  Public health professionals strongly disagreed with that recommendation.

But with new data from recently completed monitoring studies in Alaska for wild salmon and in Canada and Chile for farmed salmon, the eat wild or farmed debate is irrelevant, says Alex Trent, executive director, Salmon of the Americas (SOTA).

The latest round of PCB monitoring carried out by SOTA shows levels of PCBs in farmed salmon sampled from its members at about the same levels as the most recent data from wild Alaska Chinook and sockeye salmon tested by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC).

The ADEC study found sockeye and Chinook levels from 41 fish tested to be 10 ppb and 8.2 ppb respectively.  The latest SOTA testing which includes 100 fish sampled (about one half a ton) from east and west Canada and Chile show PCB levels in farmed salmon continue to decline.  Average PCB levels in this round of tests are 11.5 ppb, comparable to the figures for wild salmon in the ADEC study.  These numbers are about 1/200 of the FDA tolerance.

"As a registered dietitian, I hope this good news puts farmed salmon back on the plates of consumers.  Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids offering incredible health benefits to individuals who eat it at least twice a week as recommended by the American Heart Association and the government," says Zelman.  "Eating more salmon is an excellent means of controlling calories in our weight-conscious society while also providing an array of health benefits including reducing the risk of death from sudden heart attacks."