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Commentaries and editorials

Farm Fresh Salmon

by Editors
Editorial, Seattle Times - July 31, 2003

Farmed salmon are contaminated with PCBs and may be unsafe to eat, says the Environmental Working Group. Let us take this claim with a shaker of salt.

It is true that PCBs in enough quantity cause cancer, and that the 10 different fish tested by the environmental group had PCBs. The average was 27 parts per billion.

The federal limit, set by the Food and Drug Administration, is 2,000 parts per billion. Farmed salmon is 99 percent under the limit. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, has a much stricter recommendation for sport-caught fish. The EPA recommends eating fish of 25-48 parts per billion no more than once a month.

The EPA's standard is that the risk over a 70-year lifetime should increase a person's chance of getting cancer no more than 1 in 100,000. But that risk is insignificant considering that the average white American's chance of dying of cancer is already 23,000 in 100,000. Figures for other racial groups are similar.

Fish is good for you; salmon is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer's disease. Of those 100,000 Americans, heart disease kills 30,000; stroke, 7,000; and Alzheimer's disease, 2,200. Eat fish, and these rates fall. A recent study suggests that if seniors eat fish once a week, they cut their risk of Alzheimer's by 60 percent. If that study is right, it is worth a thousand times more than the study by the Environmental Working Group.

That organization suggests that people eat their salmon wild rather than farmed. A family may afford to do that. The human family cannot. The price of all salmon would be much higher, and total fish consumption less, if farmed salmon disappeared from the market.

That does not mean that PCBs should be ignored. The difference in reported figures for Ireland (above average), Canada (average) and Chile (very low), suggests that the industry ought to investigate why that is. But it is not a cause for immediate alarm.

Over the years, the Environmental Working Group has obsessed over fresh apples, pears, peaches, spinach, strawberries, celery, lettuce and canned tuna. Now, fresh salmon.

Think twice before taking dietary advice from these folks.

Farm Fresh Salmon
Seattle Times Company, July 31, 2003

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