Many of us who are careful about our diets have real concerns about eating farmed salmon and other farmed (aka “ocean-raised”) fish. We want the Omega-3 fatty acids from the fish oils — for ourselves and for our pets — but wonder if we are trading lower prices for contamination. This is especially important for pets, most of whom eat the same food every meal, every day. If there’s fish in their food (and it’s sometimes there without our realizing), it’s especially important that it’s safe.
But is wild-caught fish really all that better? The prices should tell you something. In a store near me, you pay $6.99 per pound for farmed; $16.99 for wild (when you can get it); and $15 or more for farmed fish fed organically. Given these prices, you can bet that Fifi and Fido aren’t getting organic or wild-caught.
The health dangers from farmed fish comes from the contamination of their fat with harmful chemicals called PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls). An article called PCBs – Is Farmed Salmon safe to eat?reports: “The manufacture of PCBs was banned in the U.S. in 1979 because of evidence they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects. However, PCBs persist in the environment. Fish absorb PCBs from contaminated sediments and from their food.”
PCBs in Farmed Salmon, an even more alarming article from the non-profit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group, begins: “Results from tests of store-bought farmed salmon show seven of 10 fish were so contaminated with PCBs that they raise cancer risk.”
The EWG adds that studies show that farmed fish accumulate PCBs from their fishmeal diet. They go on to say that if the EPA set health guidance levels for PCBs in farmed salmon the same as it does wild-caught salmon, they’d limit consumption to once a month.
For years, I haven’t eaten farmed fish more than once monthly — and I really love salmon. I certainly wouldn’t feed farmed fish to an animal more often than that, let alone for every meal.
Fish farming damages the environment as well, pouring liquid waste into the sea. It also takes much more fish to feed the farmed fish than those farmed fish ultimately produce. This Time Magazine article Is Fish Farming Safe? will probably turn you off fish farming forever.
Sadly, farming isn’t even good for fish. The farmed fish pass disease and parasites (like sea lice), and also pass weaker genes when they breed with wild fish. This seems to be endangering wild salmon worldwide, cutting populations by 50% or more when the wild fish encounter fish farms or their escaped fish. (Not surprisingly, some salmon farmers disagree with these findings.) Read National Geographic’s article Farmed Salmon Decimating Wild Salmon Worldwide for more on this.
So, my advice is this. Read up and investigate. I’ve personally read enough to feel uncomfortable feeding salmon (including treats) to my own dogs, but you should decide for yourself. Call manufacturers to find out if fish in your pet’s food is farmed. (Hint: it’s very unlikely that it’s wild unless it’s very expensive.) You probably won’t find the information you’re looking for on pet food websites. Search on-line by product name or parent company to find a toll-free number and call them. Better yet, find a number on the bag or can. If there’s no number, don’t feed that food anymore.
In any event, I recommend feeding a wide variety foods, avoiding salmon, fish and fishmeal. Be sure to check labels. Even chicken and beef products often contain fish.
And because PCBs accumulate in fat, always buy fish oils made from wild fish. Carlson and Nordic Naturals, available widely at health food stores and on-line, both make good products.
Learn more about dog food, switching foods, and dog food myths at my website Dogs4Dogs.com. And if you like this article, please bookmark it and pass it on. Also watch for another article on selecting pet food in our new Blog4Dogs.
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