Lack of standards leads to consumer confusion
by Randy Hartnell
In response to repeated, damaging reports about contamination of farmed salmon by carcinogenic industrial chemicals (PCBs, dioxin, furans) and the toxic sea lice pesticide malachite green, some aqua-farming companies have begun to offer so-called "organic" salmon. What’s a shopper to think? Are these fish any better than regular farmed salmon?
According to an April 7, 2004 article by Renee Schettler of the Washington Post, "…[while] organic salmon differs from conventional farm-raised salmon in several important ways, there is no evidence to date that indicates the contaminant level of organic farmed salmon is less than that of conventional farmed salmon."
None of the "organic" salmon raised or sold in the U.S bears the USDA organic seal, because the agency’s National Organics Program has not yet set standards for organic seafood. (European countries set standards for organic aquaculture several years ago.) The USDA organic seal was introduced in October of 2002, and is allowed only on products that meet the USDA’s organic production standards. Nonetheless, farmed salmon can legally be labeled "organic," because the USDA regulates only the use of its organic seal: not the use of the word organic.
While farmed salmon labeled "organic" may meet the standards set by an independent organic-certification organization, those standards vary widely. Concerned consumers would need to demand that information from the retailer or fish-farmer.
And then, as the Washington Post article noted, "…there is the issue of taste. When both organic and conventional farm-raised salmon were seared and sampled side by side with wild, there was little distinction in appearance, texture or flavor between the two varieties of farm-raised. They both paled compared with wild salmon."
I, too, can attest to the difference in taste. As you may recall from our last newsletter article, we donated wild sockeye lox fillets to be served at breakfast at Dr. Andrew Weil's recent Nutrition conference in Tuscon, Arizona. The chef was fearful of running out, so we brought along what we thought would be more than enough for the 450 people attending the three-day conference. What we forgot to factor in was that these were 450 nutrition-conscious people with a keen understanding of the health benefits of eating wild salmon! To our surprise, and the chef's dismay, the sockeye lox were so popular that all were consumed by the end of breakfast on the second day.
On the morning of the third day, the conference chef was forced to send out to a local "natural food" store to buy more lox. Unable to find wild salmon, his helper returned with "organic" farmed salmon lox, which was no match for our wild sockeye. The organic farmed lox was artificially colored, far less firm, and tasted fishier. During the first two days, our wild Alaskan lox was devoured by those in attendance. In contrast, at the end of breakfast on the third day, a large fillet of the organic farmed lox remained on the buffet line, and more than a few plates contained unfinished fish.
As far as I am concerned, there is only one kind of "organic" salmon: the wild, delicious, extraordinarily pure and nutritious salmon that Alaskan fishermen catch in the open ocean.