More misinformation about the well-established safety of wild salmon 
by Randy Hartnell 

Soon after refuting erroneous information about salmon and mercury in Oprah Winfrey's O magazine, we came upon yet another sadly misinformed article, this time in the June issue of the consumer magazine Alternative Medicine.  


The article, entitled “Is Salmon Safe?,” repeated the bizarre recommendations of researchers whose findings of high PCB levels in farmed salmon have twice made headlines. 


The PCBs-in-salmon researchers based their remarkably faulty recommendations on sport-caught-fish guidelines issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unfortunately, their recommendations were repeated in the Alternative Medicine article. There are four good reasons to reject them:


  1. First, consider the findings of a Swedish scientific team that studied sockeye salmon migrating up Alaska's Copper River. In a radio interview, team leader Göran Ewald, Ph.D.—a leading expert in eco-toxicology—noted that pollutant levels in Copper River salmon (which are representative of all wild salmon) are at least 20 times lower than federal standards, and far lower than in fish from other parts of the world. As he said, "The levels are extremely low. I don't think you could find lower levels in other fish species. Comparing it to the Great Lakes, the Baltic, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and so on, these are extremely low concentrations."
  2. The EPA's own expert in the region disagrees with the agency's consumption guidelines for fish containing such minuscule levels of PCBs. Michael Watson, Ph.D., the senior marine eco-toxicologist at the Seattle office of the U.S. EPA, was interviewed for the same radio program that reviewed Dr. Ewald's findings.  He told the host that people should have no misgivings about eating Alaska salmon. As he said, "This is a nothing problem as far as human health. I think it's a trivial issue. The benefits of eating Copper River sockeye [or any other wild Alaskan salmon] so [greatly] eclipse the risk."
  3. I would point again to the view expressed by the world's foremost authority on the cancer risks posed by industrial chemicals—Dr. Bruce Ames of UC Berkeley, inventor of most widely used scientific method of identifying cancer-causing chemicals (called the “Ames test”). As I noted in my reply to customer Sherry Guinn (see “Customer Letter…” in this issue) Dr. Ames told an audience of physicians (and us) at Dr. Andrew Weil's 2005 Nutrition & Health Conference that he considers the risks of eating wild salmon very remote compared with the abundant preventive-health rewards of salmon's omega-3s. Ironically, Dr. Ames was profiled in the same issue of Alternative Medicinemagazine, concerning his public campaign to reduce cancer risk by ensuring optimal intake of essential micro-nutrients: a category that includes omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. The Alternative Medicine article quotes Harvard's renowned nutrition and public health researcher Walter Willet, M.D. on the subject of salmon safety: “We should do our best to keep our farmed salmon as free from contamination as possible, but the theoretical risks from them at present are minor compared to those of everyday life and consuming other foods.” Like Dr. Ames, Dr. Willett told an audience of physicians at Dr. Andrew Weil's 2005 Nutrition & Health Conference that the risks of eating wild salmon appear very small, compared with the bountiful preventive-health benefits of salmon's omega-3s.

It seems that the world's most expert toxicologists disagree strongly with their recommendations—as repeated in Alternative Medicine magazine—concerning the amount of salmon you can safely consume: recommendations that also ignore the enormous health benefits of wild salmon's high omega-3 content and uniquely favorable fatty acid profile!

Given that people turn to a magazine like Alternative Medicine specifically for credible information about their health and well being, it is most unfortunate that they would promote misinformation that discourages consumption of one of the healthiest foods on earth. The responsible thing would be for them to print a retraction, but we're not holding our breath.

In the months leading up to the article, Alternative Medicine's marketing department solicited Vital Choice vigorously to advertise in the “salmon story” issue, but did not consult with us for the article. We offered to provide our insights, but were told that we could only contribute editorially IF we agreed to advertise in the issue. This felt a bit sleazy to us and we declined. We were later advised by publishing insiders that it is highly unethical to barter editorial positioning for advertising. 


  • Aschwanden C. Is Salmon Good for You? Alternative Medicine. Page 74. June, 2005.
  •  Larsson P,  Okla L,  Ewald G,  Linge H,  Szarzi N. Biotransport of organic pollutants to an inland Alaska lake by migrating sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka). Arctic, March 1998 
  • Salmon Bring Pollutants North. Arctic Science Journeys. Accessed online June 17, 2005 at