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    Archive for the ‘Country of Origin Labeling’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Farmed Seafood

    shrimpThanks for all the information about farmed salmon.  I had no idea Atlantic salmon was grown in such nasty conditions.

    The other day at a restaurant, I had the following grilled seafood choices to add to a salad: squid, shrimp, tuna, and lobsters.

    Are any of these farmed, or can I order them knowing they are all wild?  I already know about mercury in tuna; in this instance I am only interested in the farming vs. wild issue.

    — Steve Wilmott
    (Location withheld)

    Seafood opens up Pandora’s box.  Frankly, the more I read about the fishing and farming of many marine animals, the more turned off I am.

    There’s the mercury issue with tuna, the salmon farming hot topic, concerns regarding overfishing and completely unsustainable catching methods that threaten to render certain species extinct and practically destroy ecosystems, and then… there’s the issue of Country of Origin Labeling.

    Let’s start at the beginning.

    In regards to your question: tuna and squid are not farmed.  Roughly half of all shrimp in the world are farmed.  The vast majority of lobsters, meanwhile, are wild-caught.

    The shrimp issue is interesting.  Whereas shrimp farms in the United States are subject to certain regulations (mainly relating to waste treatment and antibiotic use), the overwhelming majority of the world’s farmed shrimp — mainly housed in China, India, and Thailand — are harvested in awful conditions.  Their water is laden with copious amounts of chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides that are strictly illegal in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Since more than three quarters of the shrimp sold in the United States is imported from those countries (and is very rarely inspected for those substances upon arriving to these shores), chances are the shrimp you eat has not been raised in the most pristine conditions.

    Making matters more complicated?  Depending on the species, farmed shrimp (the US kind) is a more environmentally-friendly choice than some wild-caught species that are obtained through methods that pose very negative consequences on ecosystems.  This is where personal choice and priorities come into play.  Do you value health over environment?  Environment over health?  Both equally?

    Of course, this would all be much easier to navigate if Country of Origin Labeling were implemented more effectively.

    Currently, United States law mandates that unprocessed seafood served at supermarkets be labeled with the country of origin as well as a “farmed” or “wild-caught” status.  For whatever reason, restaurants and specialty stores are exempt from this requirement.

    One of my absolute favorite resources is the Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, tailored to various different regions.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dyes/Farmed Salmon

    Are the synthetic dyes [fed to farmed salmon] harmful?

    I googled astaxanthin and found a website talking about how it’s an antioxidant and prevents cancer and is necessary for the healthy growth of the farmed salmon.

    Surely that can’t be true.

    — Kristin
    Via the blog

    That is technically true, but there is more to this story.

    While both astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration (although people trust that organization to varying degrees), certain concentrations of canthaxanthin have been associated with eye defects.

    Interestingly, different countries have different ideas of how many parts per million of that synthetic dye are “safe.”

    That being said, the vast majority of salmon farmed in the United States and Europe is only fed astaxanthin.

    In other parts of the world, though, farmed salmon is only fed canthaxanthin (it is the cheaper of the two dyes.)

    I still would not be too worried. You would need to be eating a LOT of salmon dyed with canthaxanthin to be affected.

    What all of this ties into, though, is another controversial topic – COOL (Country of Origin Labeling.)

    Although it is required for all fish sold in the United States, I have seen it very sparingly in supermarkets.

    As far as I am concerned, the core issue surrounding these food dyes isn’t so much possible health repercussions, but rather truthful advertising to consumers.

    If farmed salmon were to either remain gray or be dyed another color (say, white), then consumers would immediately know they are not purchasing a wild variety, and there would be no room for mislabeling (remember this infamous study by Marian Burros of The New York Times?).

    Since farmed salmon is nutritionally inferior to its wild counterpart (more saturated fat, higher Omega 6 fatty acid content, lower Omega 3 fatty acid content), people should not be left in the dark.

    This is not to say farmed salmon should completed avoided or viewed in the same light as deep fried fish nuggets, but consumers have a right to know exactly what they are putting on their plates.

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