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Controversial Study says Farmed Salmon
May Pose Health Threat

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, January 16, 2004

Some Wild Fish Risky, Too

A new study that analyzed two tons of farmed and wild salmon from around the world says that organic contaminants are "significantly higher" in the farmed variety, with European-raised fish carrying much greater contaminant loads than farmed fish from North and South America.

The study, published in Science (Jan. 9, 2004) and supported by research funding from the environmental division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said risk analysis showed that eating farmed salmon "may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption."

The study said farmed salmon from Europe should only be eaten several times a year, using EPA consumption guidelines for potential cancer risks. Washington state and Chilean farmed salmon could be eaten once a month.

But one relatively unnoticed element of the study showed that wild chinook from Southeastern Alaska should only be eaten once a month, while wild chinook, sockeye and coho from British Columbia, along with Oregon chinook, and sockeye from BC and Southeastern Alaska could be consumed twice a month. Sockeye and coho caught near Kodiak, Alaska, could be eaten four times a month, while chum salmon from both countries could be eaten up to eight times a month.

Purdue University researcher Dr. Charles Santerre, now a paid consultant for a fish farm industry association, said he agreed with the overall findings, but disagreed with the study's conclusion that consumers should limit their intake of farmed salmon due to an increased risk of cancer.

"The study demonstrates that farmed salmon is very low in contaminants and meets or exceeds standards established by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization," Santerre said. "The study also shows that the cancer risk from eating large amounts of salmon is significantly lower than the risk of developing heart disease from not eating generous amounts of the fish."

Last August, when NW Fishletter reported that PCB levels in many wild fish were higher than some farmed fish, Santerre was contacted before he began consulting with the farmed salmon industry. At that time, he said "while a person consuming farmed salmon weekly over a 70-year lifespan may slightly increase their risk of cancer, the heart-healthy benefits to maintaining a diet rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids far outweigh the risks."

Public health officials throughout the nation have said the contaminant levels found in both wild and farmed salmon are too low to worry about, echoing remarks of Dr. Michael Gallo, a public health professor from Rutgers University, who was interviewed recently in Intrafish, an online industry publication. He said the difference between 5 ppb [parts per billion] and 30 ppb of PCBs in the samples "is meaningless" when used in the EPA mathematical model. Gallo, who helped put together the EPA model of cancer risk assessment, said that the study authors should not have discounted the FDA's guidance on contaminants in fish. "As a professor of public health, I would never tell anyone to limit their intake of salmon," Gallo said.

Bill Rudolph
Controversial Study says Farmed Salmon may Pose Health Threat
NW Fishletter, January 16, 2004

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