Over the last 10 years or so, the public became aware of the enormous difference in the nutrition of wild salmon compared with farmed varieties.
Since up to 90% of the salmon consumed in the United States is farmed, the viability of a very profitable industry was threatened by this newly educated, activist-minded consumer.
In response, the industry quickly pivoted to the term “sustainable salmon”.
I’ve noticed over the past year or two that much of salmon in health food stores is of the sustainable variety. Finding truly wild salmon seems more difficult than ever.
But does better for the environment mean better for you and your family nutritionally speaking?
What is Sustainable Salmon?
In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a genetically engineered salmon for human consumption. You may have seen the GE salmon memes all over social media in the year or two prior advising the public to submit comments to the FDA to reject frankenfish.
Known as Aquabounty, GE salmon is a variety of Atlantic salmon modified with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon. This modification makes them grow much faster than normal. (1)
In fact, GE Atlantic salmon can reach adult size in only 18 months. Normally, the process can take up to 6 years or even longer depending on water temperature and food availability. (2)
The biggest concern of environmentalists with Aquabounty salmon is that individuals could escape into the wild, reproduce and eventually threaten the viability of slow-growing wild Atlantic salmon.
To combat these concerns, farming of these GE fish takes place at land-based farms far from the ocean.
This new type of salmon farm eliminates the risk of escapees mating with wild populations.
In addition, the risk of fish waste messing up the marine environment is reduced to zero.
Indoor salmon farms also recycle more than 95% of the tank water, which maintains a cleaner environment. This reduces the risk of disease and minimizes the need for antibiotics and other drugs to keep the farmed fish healthy.
Even Seafood Watch – which in the past warned consumers away from all farmed salmon – is impressed with these landlocked salmon farms. This organization identified indoor raised Atlantic salmon as “Best Choice”, its highest stamp of approval. (3)
Green for Industry Doesn’t Mean Healthy for People
While the industry may applaud and give high ratings to sustainably farmed salmon, from a consumer’s point of view, this type of fish is far from a “Best Choice”.
Bottom line, sustainably farmed salmon is nothing but a nutrient-poor fish that is potentially genetically engineered.
Sustainable Salmon Labels Shade the Truth
While indoor farmed salmon does represent a big leap forward in reducing environmental damage, the fact remains that the salmon is still farmed and eating a by and large unnatural diet.
Worse, some of these landlocked Atlantic salmon farms are raising GE fish. These genetically modified fillets hit the market for the first time in the summer of 2017. It shipped unlabeled to retailers in Canada. (4)
No doubt, most Canadians had no idea they were guinea pigs for the very first GMO animal in the world’s food supply.
Barring any surprises, GE “sustainably farmed” Atlantic salmon will be on the shelves in the United States very soon. As of May 2019, the FDA has approved AquaBounty for human consumption. (5)
We wouldn’t know, though, because the FDA does not require that labels identify frankenfish fillets.
From the reading I’ve done on the subject, the industry is taking great pains to keep the presence of GE salmon in the food supply very quiet.
Any articles seem to focus only on the improved environmental impact of indoor farmed Atlantic salmon rather than the fact that a growing percentage are frankenfish.
Sustainable vs Wild Salmon
Ultimately, smart consumers are going to stick with wild salmon and ignore the sustainable buzzword on seafood packaging.
The fact is that sustainable salmon is little different from the toxic salmon farms of old!
The environmental impact is less, yes. This is great, but the food produced is just as nutritionless. In addition, indoor farms still utilize drugs and antibiotics, albeit at lower levels than before.
Here are the 5 most glaring differences between “sustainable” and wild salmon. (6)
- Wild salmon has a more beneficial ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats, which can help fight inflammation. By comparison, farmed salmon due to an unnatural diet of GMO corn and other grains, has a ratio favoring omega-6 fats, which can trigger and/or exacerbate inflammatory conditions.
- Wild salmon contains rich amounts of critical nutrients such as Vitamin B-12, phosphorus, and folate (NOT synthetic folate, aka folic acid) compared to the poor levels in farmed salmon.
- Wild salmon is naturally environmentally sustainable and ethical. “Sustainable salmon” produced in land based farms can be of genetically engineered origins (and unlabeled as such). Ironically, this is about as unethical and unsustainable as it gets.
- Wild salmon consuming a natural diet is rich in thyroid supporting iodine and selenium. Sustainably farmed salmon are fed an unnatural diet and given synthetic pigments to turn the flesh pink to fool consumers.
In conclusion, just say no to sustainable salmon.
The food industry needs to learn that using buzzwords to sell an undesirable product is ultimately not going to fool an educated consumer.
Once you’ve got a good source, try cooking your salmon fillets in a toaster oven for perfect results every time 🙂
(1, 4) Salmon becomes the world’s first genetically modified animal to enter the food supply
(2) Life Cycle of Atlantic Salmon
(3) You Won’t Believe the Source of the World’s Most Sustainable Salmon
(5) GE Salmon Approved for Human Consumption by the FDA
(7) Why Farmed Salmon is Toxic Junk Food
Sarah could you PLEASE PLEASE give us your source of safe salmon?? There are so many that I have looked into but just cannot decided if they are what they say they are. Thanks so much! Enjoy your site and emails SO much!! You are one smart cookie !!
Aren’t there also higher levels of mercury in the farmed Salmon? That’s the reason why our pediatrician told us to stay away from it.
Great article! Thanks for posting.
Hi Sarah, surely the reason we need to farm salmon is because there just isn’t enough wild salmon available for the growing population of the world, and if you put people off eating farmed salmon – wild salmon will be extinct in the coming years?
Sarah Pope MGA
That’s why you source wild salmon that is sustainably harvested. 🙂
Great article, common sense really man can never make anything like nature. Man is always about speed and profit with that always goes quality. We are our own worst enemies.
Hey Sarah, really great article! Much like our blog (FWDfuel), we appreciate that you use and list your references to back up everything. The research showing the harm of GMOs and the effects of toxic food needs to be shared with the public.
Also, love your question of, “Does better for the environment mean better for you and your family nutritionally speaking?” Thank you for posting!
Brian Mack, I am curious if you can clarify for me? Which industry has brought devastation to wild salmon populations? The farmed salmon industry or do you mean the fishing industry. How has disease been brought in? Thanks! I am interested to hear about this.
Is the Norwegian sustainable raised salmon also GE? Our research stated that this salmon eats an all natural diet and is regularly checked by veterinarians. Is this true, or false? I eat a high-nutrient, all organic vegan diet for health reasons, but my husband eats this salmon 4 times a week.
Sarah Pope MGA
You will have to call the company and inquire. If it is Atlantic salmon, then the chances are getting higher by the day that it is GE. I would advise being very, very skeptical! I haven’t found a sustainable farmed salmon yet that I would eat.
Hi Sarah, do we need to be concerned about Alaskan wild salmon picking up any radioactivity caused by the nuclear spill in Japan a few years back?
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes, I believe we do. I personally avoid seafood from the North Pacific as much as I can (southern hemisphere Pacific seafood is fine).
It is important to note that wild salmon from the Pacific is MUCH less risky than tuna, however, given that tuna traverse the entire Pacific several times during their lives .. coming very close to Japan in the process. This is not the case with salmon.
Hi Sarah, Do you know if the canned ‘John West’ salmon is what it claims to be? It says its wild salmon but also say sustainably fished…
Sarah Pope MGA
Sustainably fished is acceptable and desirable … if it says wild, then it should be fine. Thanks for bringing up that important caveat!
Thank you Sarah for this truly insightful article on the consistent horrors of the salmon farming industry.
As a British Columbia resident and wild salmon fisherman, I have witnessed first hand the absolute devastation this industry has brought to our wild salmon populations. The foreign diseases they bring to our ocean(through collusion with a corrupt Department of Fisheries and Canadian Food Inspection Agency) has almost wiped out once plentiful wild salmon runs in BC.
Another key point in being unsustainable.
The dislike for this industry in BC is widespread and for good reason. They have caused billions $$ in damages to the wild salmon economy and taken away key food sources for First Nations peoples who have relied on wild salmon for thousands of years.
Thankfully recent court cases may spell an end to this industries grip hold on our coast.