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The trouble with salmon

Consumer Reports News: September 22, 2010 10:44 AM

You often hear that eating salmon is good for you. But you might have also heard that some salmon might be higher in PCBs, a probable carcinogen. Well, it’s all true. So what should you do? It’s confusing, even for me, and I’ve been researching fish contaminants for years.

Here’s all you really need to know: Most salmon you’ll find at the supermarket is farmed, whether it’s called Atlantic, Canadian, or Chilean. But Alaskan salmon should always be wild (decent wild-caught salmon can come from Washington, too). Wild is better for the environment and usually has fewer contaminants and additives than farm-raised.

The problem with farmed salmon is that their diet includes concentrated fish meal and fish oil, which depletes fish stocks, and it might contain higher levels of PCBs, dioxins, and pesticide residues. Farmed salmon might also be treated with antibiotics, fungicides, and parasiticides, and waste from farms can harm plant and animal life.

Here are some shopping tips:

  • If you can’t find Alaskan wild salmon locally, order it online at websites like VitalChoice.
  • If you don’t see a label on salmon, assume it’s farmed.
  • Don’t pay more for "organic" salmon. There are no standards for that label on fish in the U.S.
  • If you buy farmed salmon, eat it in moderation; grill, bake, or broil it so that the fat drips off while cooking; and remove any skin to help cut your exposure to contaminants.

Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Technical Policy Director, Consumers Union 

This article first appeared in the October 2010 issue of ShopSmart magazine, on newsstands now. For more on fish safety, read our article on the benefits and risks of eating fish and check out the seafood buying guide.

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