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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Should you step away from the salmon?

Saturday, April 29, 2017
Heard of “Health washing”?  It’s a modern term, describing foods promoted as healthy but which, after you’ve done your due diligence, turn out to be not so fabulous. Farmed salmon is a good example, proclaimed as a good source of healthy omega-3 oils. And it is. But when you learn how this food is produced you might conclude that farmed salmon isn’t such a healthy choice after all.

If you’ve ever visited Canada you’ve probably sampled their wild salmon, which is a rich red colour and has a rich flavour, as well as excellent omega-3 content. It needs a really cold climate and a wild diet to grow those oils naturally. In Australia we like to eat salmon too, but don’t have the icy coldness of Canadian waters that would enable wild salmon to thrive here. Instead they’re farmed, as far south as we can manage – in Tasmania. There, circular pens house swarming masses of salmon which are harvested and soon after appear on the supermarket shelves. 

There are two issues with the farming of salmon which could give you pause as you’re wandering down the supermarket aisles. One is the diet the farmed salmon are fed on. Understandably, a large amount of salmon housed in a pen can’t forage for wild feed, so it’s provided for them. Some producers feed the salmon fish meal; others use some fish meal as well as grains and meat products. Just before harvesting the salmon’s diet is adjusted to include more omega-3 oils, so that what you buy has a good content of these healthy oils. Also, since farmed fish flesh is gray and we all prefer to see a pinky hue in our salmon, their feed includes a dye. That dye could be natural or synthetic.

Some people perceive the circular pens salmon are housed in as the aquatic equivalent of cage eggs or pig stalls, where movement is restricted and natural behaviours aren’t possible. Also, concerns have been raised in the media about the impact of intensive aquaculture on the environment.

Details of housing and diet are readily available on the salmon farmers’ and feed manufacturers’ web sites; the Tasmanian acquaculture industry and their brands are quite open about their practices, the feed they utilise, and how they manage their industry. Researching this is easy, and perhaps a good idea if you like to know the reality of that apparently healthy food.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Omega 3 & omega 6 oils: getting the balance right

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