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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Is Salmon Really Safe?
Recent media reports confuse the facts—and consumers
by Randy Hartnell

The facts about seafood safety, as documented by researchers worldwide, are well known to health authorities, yet some recent media reports managed to mangle them pretty badly. I'd like to share a letter I wrote to the producers of NBC-TV's Today Show, in which I tried to correct some of the most serious misstatements made by a recent guest on their program—errors I encounter all too often.

All Vital Choice products are tested routinely by a state-of-the-art independent laboratory ( To date, these tests have not found any hazardous levels of contaminants deemed unsafe by U.S. health agencies.

For example:
  • The U.S. FDA says that halibut generally contains unhealthful levels of mercury—but tests of our Alaskan halibut show extremely low levels.
  • While researchers find elevated levels of PCBs in farmed salmon and unsafe amounts of mercury in some canned tuna, tests of our Alaskan salmon and Pacific albacore tuna show that they contain far lower, negligible levels.
Why is our fish so much cleaner than average supermarket fare? Contaminants accumulate in longer-lived fish over time as they feed, so we purchase and sell only the smallest (i.e., the cleanest) halibut and tuna available. Our salmon come from Alaska and British Columbia, home to some of most pristine waters on earth.

Here is my letter to the Today Show, which I've edited a bit for readability:


I'm writing to comment on your August 1, 2003 segment with Matt Lauer on salmon, which I found alarming in the scope and gravity of its dissemination of misinformation. I was an Alaskan fisherman for more than 20 years before founding my company, Vital Choice Seafood. As a person seeking to educate consumers about the remarkable health benefits of consuming wild Alaskan salmon, I have worked hard to become expert in the field and to help consumers make the important distinction between wild and farmed salmon.

Wild Alaskan salmon is a sustainably harvested, pure, and completely natural seafood. It is one of the cleanest, healthiest, and most nutrient-dense foods. In contrast, farmed salmon is rife with problems, yet demand from unenlightened and misinformed consumers is fostering explosive growth in its production, thereby damaging precious ecosystems, flooding world markets, and driving those reliant upon the wild salmon industry into an economic tailspin.

The spokesperson you featured from ‘"Self'" magazine was woefully uninformed, and failed to point out that neither mercury (a potent nerve toxin) nor PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls—a group of carcinogenic/neuro-toxic industrial chemicals) are a problem in Alaskan wild salmon. She did a grave disservice to your viewers, and all who attempt to help consumers identify their best seafood options. Below, I've listed five major misstatements, along with my corrective commentary:

Misstatement #1: All salmon are contaminated with hazardous levels of PCBs—inferred by the spokesperson's failure to make the important distinction between wild and farmed salmon, as well as the camera shot of several cans of Alaskan-origin wild salmon during the interview.

Rebuttal: Independent tests of wild salmon consistently show them free of harmful levels of these contaminants. I have personally had our wild Alaskan salmon products tested on a number of occasions by an independent, state-of-the-art lab—tests that NEVER ONCE produced any detectable levels of PCBs. These test results are available for review.

Furthermore, the Alaska Division of Public Health continues, in their words, to "….strongly recommend that all Alaskans, including pregnant women, women who are breast feeding, women of childbearing age, and young children continue unrestricted consumption of fish from Alaskan waters" ( b2001_06.htm).

Wild salmon frequently resides at the top of lists touting safe seafood options (For a recent example, see the August, 2003 issue of "Reader's Digest"). In sharp contrast, farmed salmon have consistently been shown to have levels of PCBs dramatically higher than those found in any other common protein source—especially when compared with the virtually nonexistent amounts found in wild salmon.

As the Environmental Working Group's report on its tests of farmed salmon found, "These first-ever tests of farmed salmon from U.S. grocery stores show that farmed salmon are likely the most PCB-contaminated protein source in the U.S. food supply. On average farmed salmon have 16 times the dioxin-like PCBs found in wild salmon, 4 times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the dioxin-like PCBs found in other seafood.

The levels found in the Environmental Working Group's tests support previous studies of farmed salmon contamination by scientists from Canada, Ireland, and the U.K. In total, these studies support the conclusion that American consumers nationwide are exposed to elevated PCB levels by eating farmed salmon" (—see also the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's story at

Misstatement #2: Both wild and farmed salmon are contaminated with hazardous levels of mercury.

Rebuttal: Both wild and farmed salmon are relatively short-lived fish free of hazardous levels of mercury. As the Environmental Working Group reports: "The risk of mercury in salmon appears to be minimal. In fact, the FDA states that limiting consumption is unnecessary for salmon."

For additional information on this issue, I encourage you to visit the ‘Purity' page of our web site, at: And, a current Atlanta Journal-Constitution story provides a table of mercury levels in various seafood species at (scroll to end of page).

Misstatement #3: Farmed and wild salmon are comparable sources of omega-3s.

Rebuttal: As important as getting adequate omega-3s in one's diet is the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. The ratio found in our traditional diets—consumed throughout human history, until the past few decades and still considered optimal—is 3 to 1. Wild salmon contain this ideal ratio while farmed salmon, due to their radically different diets, often contain ten parts omega-6 fats to one part omega-3 fats. This difference is vital to the millions of people (your viewers) needing to restore a healthful balance of these essential nutrients.

And, unlike wild salmon, farmed salmon contains considerable amounts of saturated fats—the kinds of fats associated with higher risk of heart disease.

Misstatement #4: One would need to eat several servings of salmon a day to get the recommended amount of omega-3s.

Rebuttal: The FDA has not yet announced a Recommended Daily Allowance for omega-3s, but Canada and Europe have settled on 1 gram combined EPA and DHA per day. According the USDA nutrient data base, wild sockeye, coho and king salmon—canned, fresh or frozen—all contain more than 1.2 grams of long-chain omega-3s per 3.5 oz serving.

Misstatement #5: Flaxseed/flaxseed oil is a suitable replacement for the omega-3s found in fish and fish oil.

Rebuttal: Flaxseed contains only short-chain omega-3 (ALA), which is not the biological equivalent of the long-chain omega-3 molecules found in fish (DHA and EPA). Most people's bodies are not very good at converting short-chain ALA into the biologically active EPA and DHA forms. Consequently, most individuals taking flax supplements may remain deficient in EPA and DHA. At minimum, they would have to consume a large amount of expensive flaxseed oil—and its fat calories—in order for their bodies to produce the required amounts of EPA and DHA found in far smaller amounts of fish and fish oil.

This is especially important for pregnant and nursing women and their developing babies who have an undisputed, profound need for the DHA and EPA abundant in fatty fish like wild salmon. EPA-DHA deficiency has been associated with preeclampsia, premature delivery, low birth weight, underdeveloped brain, neural and retinal systems, neonatal morbidity, pre- and post post-natal maternal depression, and a number of other adverse conditions that compromise the well being of the mother and developing child. Later in the child's life, an EPA-DHA deficiency may result in diminished learning capacity, mental disorders, attention deficit syndrome, and many other problems.

In short, the building materials for developing an optimally healthy child are abundant in wild salmon. With rare exceptions related to individual circumstances, public health authorities actively encourage mothers and children to consume this exceptionally healthful seafood.

In conclusion, should you wish to mitigate the damage done by your August 1, 2003 Today Show broadcast, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further and make myself, or others knowledgeable on this subject available to you. I would also be happy to provide you with personal references, including Dr. Nicholas Perricone, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Joseph Mercola, and other legitimate health and wellness authorities who know me and endorse our wild salmon products for all the reasons mentioned above.

Alaska is indeed America's "Last Frontier," a pristine and stunningly beautiful place that yields some of the last remaining truly wild, naturally organic food on earth. This is a story that is worth telling. Not only would it benefit your audience, but also the thousands of independent Alaskan fishermen currently deserving and in dire need of the type of positive publicity your show could offer.


Randy Hartnell, President, Vital Choice Seafood, Inc.

Unfortunately, I have yet to hear back from the Today Show program director. However, am heartened by the many supportive comments I received after mentioning it in our Vital News! mailing last week. Your encouraging words are deeply appreciated, as is your assistance in spreading this important message. I'll keep you posted.

Warm regards,
Randy Hartnell