I was hanging out at Whole Foods Market (WFM) last night. It was the Grand-Opening day. Kind of embarrassing to admit such a thing would get me going, but it did. Finally, one opened in Connecticut near enough to me where it might actually be a realistic shopping option. Yay.
I do support our local stores, of course, but I WISH they had sustainable/organic fish and meat! East Coast health food stores seem to be started by hippie vegetarians in the '60s and '70s. (I know this because my first job was at the amazing, but meat-free Willimantic Food Coop when I was 14. My hippie mom paid me to work our allotted time. I ate alotta carob pecan crunch during our allotted time…that’s what I remember of it, anyway. And a staff person trying to convince me to shave my head for a Vietnam protest. A little weird, and a tad delayed—Reagan was in office at the time.)
Anyhow, I was at the Whole Foods Market.
My Mom—joining me on this grand opening day—brought me a yummy little piece of salmon teriyaki.
"Mom," I asked, "is it wild-caught?"
She didn’t know.
It’s a big issue for me, for us, for everyone eating fish. Why? Because farm-raised salmon (aka Atlantic salmon) is ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST TOXIC FOODS!
Ouch! Kinda like indulging in a lead shake or a steaming-hot cup of melted plastic.
Notes: The levels shown on this figure represent the sum of the 12 PCB compounds that resemble dioxin, widely recognized as the most toxic of all industrial pollutants, and linked to cancer as well as to damage of the nervous, reproductive, and immune systems. PCB concentrations are shown as toxic equivalents (TEQs) of 2,3.7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, the benchmark of dioxin chemical. Source: EWG analysis of data from Axys (2003), Easton et al. (2002), EPA (2000a and 2000b), Fiedler et al. (2000), Jacobs et al. (2002), NMFS (2002), NAS (2003), Schecter et al. (2001), and USDA (2002). From www.ewg.org/reports/farmedpcbs accessed 11-20-09.
As I approached the fish market at the WFM, I noticed that it was indeed FARM-raised. Ugh. And then I noticed that the Farm-raised farm guy was standing there.
"Did you know that farm-raised salmon is not so good," I asked?
My Mom said: "You just told me it’s the world’s most toxic food!"
"OK." I said to him. "It’s bad."
"In fact," I added, "I work at a laboratory that measure toxins in humans, including PCBs, which are horribly elevated in farmed salmon."
"In double fact," I said, (but anecdotally) "our CEO had screaming-high PCB levels, higher than anyone else in the lab. The culprit seemed to be the morning farm-raised salmon bagel habit he’d developed."
"Hmmmmm. Can I get back to you on that?" the farm-raised farmer asked?
"Yes. Please do."
And, to his credit, he did. Promptly. Emailing me a detailed 23 page document (PDF) outlining WFM Seafood Quality Standards for Farm Raised Salmon.
Here are a couple of excerpts I found interesting:
(TEQ = toxic equivalent)
Contaminant group Maximum Level:
WHO-TEQs (dioxins, furans, dioxin-like PCBs):
- 2.16 ppt (parts per trillion) or pg/g
- Mercury 0.22 ppm
- Maximum allowable contaminant levels are based on the values used by the U.S.EPA: 227 g meal size (8 ounces) and 70 kg body weight.
- Maximum allowable levels of PCBs and mercury are based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Guidance for Assessing Chemical Contaminant Data. Whole Foods Market has chosen to use the EPA’s standards for seafood because they are the most protective standards available for human health. Until the EPA completes their dioxin reassessment, TEQs must meet the standards of the World Health Organization
According to Bill Cole, President of Changing Seas, a WFM farm-raised fish provider (and the boss of the farm-raised fish guy I spoke with), “Our most recent test came in below the EPA levels which are the goal for producers to meet.”
I thought this was also kind of neat (from the same document):
To ensure that farmed salmon sold to Whole Foods Market provides enough beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, all farmed salmon must contain at least 1,820 mg of combined EPA and DHA per eight ounce piece of uncooked salmon (227 g).
Are they feeding the fish the new GMO soy oil that has increased omega 3’s? Antibiotics, parasiticides, hormones, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are prohibited in feed.
They are also taking measures to improve the treatment of farm-raised fish, including the quality of the water and the food. Such important stuff in this day of overwhelming toxic challenges to us and our world.
I don’t feel remarkably compelled to plug other interests with such verve, but I think this is important. I believe I can recommend this particular farm-raised salmon to my family and my patients, which is always my litmus test for value. While I still prefer wild-caught salmon, appropriately farm-raised salmon may actually be a viable option. We’ll call it Green Salmon.
What do you think?
Ciao for now.
So, what’s the big deal about organotoxin exposure anyway, you ask? Let me share with you:
Do you eat lots of farm-raised salmon? Butter your bread? Consider checking your levels. PCBs don’t go away anytime soon, and they can wreak havoc.
Dr Fitzgerald is co-author of Case Studies in Integrative and Functional Medicine, and is on faculty for the Institute for Functional Medicine. She has a clinic and consulting practice in Sandy Hook CT. To schedule with Dr. Fitzgerald, or learn more about her work, visit www.drkarafitzgerald.com.