Andrew Weil, M.D. was my companion and fellow interviewee at the famed Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan.
As we roamed among the fish mongers we came upon stacks of boxes labeled “Wild King Salmon,” in an area used by a major regional distributor.
I knew fresh wild King salmon was out of season, so I asked the product’s owner where he was getting it. To my amazement, he admitted, with no apparent shame or embarrassment, that the salmon in the boxes were actually "farmed" wild king salmon.
He went on to explain that the regional supermarket and restaurants he supplies are price sensitive so he seldom pays more than $2.75 per pound for salmon (well below the cost of actual wild king salmon).
These retail outlets are certainly aware that many of their customers have heard about the elevated levels of contaminants in farmed salmon, and, given the option, would prefer wild Alaskan salmon. Apparently the mislabeling is good for business—at least the farmed salmon business.
We were shocked at this bald deception, especially since it was being practiced by a major regional distributor who told us that he ships some 60,000 pounds of salmon every week.
We were left to wonder how much of this distributor’s farmed salmon—and farmed salmon from other wholesalers—is mislabeled as “wild,” and purchased by well-meaning consumers seeking to avoid farmed salmon.
One thing is for certain: If the distributor’s box says “Wild,” you can bet it will be priced and sold as wild at the retail level, and the store or restaurant will pocket a hefty profit. Presently, there is little oversight and enforcement, and as long as the rewards of mislabeling outweigh the risks, you can be certain it will persist.
This unethical behavior is akin to selling unsuspecting consumers feedlot beef, factory-farmed chicken or genetically-modified corn by labeling them “grass-fed,” “free-range,” or “organic.”
It is a betrayal with many victims. The deceived are cheated both monetarily and nutritionally, and hardworking salmon fishermen are deprived of countless sales as dissatisfied consumers and those they influence are discouraged by the inferior culinary experience from making future wild salmon purchases.
It’s amazing how many people think they don’t like salmon because they’ve never tasted real (wild) salmon.
What can you do?
While retailers and restaurants have a significant economic incentive to “look the other way,” it is important to note that some may be unwitting accomplices in this con game.