Is Farmed Salmon Toxic?

pieces-salmonSalmon is one of the healthiest foods you can possibly consume, right? Yes, it is. There’s one condition though. The salmon must be wild-caught. Farmed salmon is certainly not among the healthiest foods in existence. Not only does it have a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio (when compared to wild varieties), but it also contains residues of various pollutants and harmful chemicals. Some people have gone as far as to say that farmed salmon is the world’s most toxic food.

The dark side of aquaculture

This weekend I watched a very disturbing documentary called Poisonous Fish: The Big Health Lie. The documentary, embedded at the bottom of this post, was produced by Austrian national TV (ORF) and aired in September 2014. It shows how farmed fish is produced, looks into what types of pollutants that are present in the seafood we humans eat, and investigates how aquaculture affects the environment.

A lot of the footage is from Norway, my home country. It makes me sad to see that my country doesn’t hold itself to a higher standard with regards to the production of seafood. On the aquaculture front, we’re definitely not living up to our reputation as a nation that is concerned with sustainability and animal welfare.

The film was a real eye-opener for me. I was well aware of the fact that farmed fish, salmon in particular, is raised under crowded conditions and that everything from antibiotics to heavy metals to pesticides sometimes end up in the farmed fish that we humans eat. However, it wasn’t until I watched the film that I understood how severe these problems really are and how destructive aquaculture is to the environment.

I’m glad I watched the film, as it gave me a better understanding of how farmed fish is produced. That said, a small part of me kinda regrets watching it, as it made me a little upset and sad. In the film you get to see some of the darkest sides of humanity. I highly recommend that you see it, but be aware of the fact that what it shows is quite disturbing.

In today’s article I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of eating farmed fish – a discussion that would mostly revolve around the cons, as they heavily outweigh the pros in most instances. Rather, my plan was to just share and talk a little about the aforementioned documentary. There are a couple of things I would like to briefly mention before we get to the film though…

Why farmed fish get sick

Very recently, I put up an article here on the blog entitled The 6 Reasons Why Diseases Exist. In that article I looked into why organisms such as ourselves are vulnerable to disease. I made the case that evolutionary theory helps explain not only why diseases exist, but also what can be done to prevent and treat them. The observant reader may have noticed that I, via the way I formulated my language, indicated that the things I talked about are not only applicable to humans, but to all living organisms.

We humans are not separated from the rest of the natural world. We are a part of it. In the context of evolution, the same rules apply to us as to other organisms. When I said there are 6 reasons why diseases exist, I didn’t mean that there are 6 reasons why human diseases exist; I meant that there are 6 reasons why diseases exist at all. The reasons why sheep, cows, and fish are vulnerable to disease are similar to the reasons why humans are vulnerable to disease.

The first thing I talked about – mismatch between design and environment – is particularly relevant with regards to the production of farmed fish. The case of farmed fish is an extreme example of an evolutionary mismatch. It clearly shows us how important the environment is in the context of health and disease. The genotype of an organism is merely the hardware; it’s the milieu in which the organism lives that determines how this hardware is used.

Fish such as salmon were obviously not designed to eat commercial fish pellets, live in a very crowded environment, and endure frequent exposure to antibiotics and various other drugs and chemicals. They express an abnormal phenotype and get sick when they live under such conditions.

This is similar to what happens when we humans live in an environment that is very dissimilar from the ancestral environments in which our genes were selected. We get sick, fat, and our bodies don’t grow or develop correctly.

Some of the problems with farmed salmon

Among the farmed fish that we humans consume, salmon is high on the list of the ones that are the most unhealthful, due in part to the fact that it is a very fatty fish. The fatty acid composition of any animal is greatly affected by the environment in which the animal lives. Moreover, many chemical substances can accumulate in fatty tissues.

3 problems with farmed salmon:

  • It’s abnormally high in fat and has a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio (when compared to wild salmon) (1, 2).
  • It tastes weird. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that farmed salmon has a strange taste. Personally, I find it quite unappealing.
  • It contains high concentrations of organochlorine compounds such as PCBs, dioxins, and chlorinated pesticides (1, 3).

In my recently published article about milk, I pointed out that the dairy industry, via their clever marketing campaigns and smart business plans, has lured the public into thinking that it’s very healthy to drink cow’s milk. The seafood industry has done the same thing with seafood.

Here in Norway, my home country, salmon is by most people viewed as a very healthy food. Salmon producers market their products as being fresh and rich in healthy fats. They slice the salmon into smaller pieces, remove the bones, and wrap the finished product in nice packages labeled with various marketing terms that give the consumers the impression that the product in question is very healthy. What they neglect to mention is that their product is likely contaminated with a variety of substances that adversely affects human health. Moreover, they are usually resistant to allow journalists and other investigators access to their production facilities.

Quite recently, some salmon producers have taken steps to improve the conditions and health of the fish they raise (4); however, as a whole, the salmon industry is still a very nasty business.

Okay, with that said, let’s finally get to the documentary that triggered me to write this post…

Poisonous Fish: The Big Health Lie

As consumers, we can make a difference by voicing our disgust with how the farmed fish industry currently operates, as well as vote with our dollars, choosing fish that has been raised under good conditions over fish that has lived in a toxic environment.

Now I want to hear from you: What are your thoughts on the film? Do you eat farmed salmon?

Picture: Creative commons picture by Zenrio Believe. Some rights reserved.


  1. MacManiac says:

    Hi! I am ex Swedish, now happiy living in Australia. Here are a couple of links for you to look at. I asked one of the salmon farming bosses here if he had any concerns about the fact that salmon has never before in its evolutionary history encountered Lupin in its food supply. All I got was an angry tirade about profitability.

  2. Mark Bisson says:

    Great article! I’ve tried to stay away from farmed fish for years. Have you heard any info regarding wild caught Pacific Salmon being affected by the Fukushima accident? I keep hearing that the nuclear waste/radiation has affected much of the Pacific seafood.

  3. New link to movie here:
    (old one taken down)

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