Is Sustainable Salmon Safe? How Does it Compare to Wild?| Updated: May 29, 2019
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.
The food industry needs to learn that using buzzwords to sell an undesirable product is ultimately not going to fool an educated consumer.
(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
Since 2002, Sarah has been a Health and Nutrition Educator dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah received a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, her work has been covered by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.