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Farmed salmon, Waitrose, sophable and her dh

(162 Posts)
Heathcliffscathy Tue 23-Jun-09 14:28:08

I don't know how many of you were following the live webchat yesterday. Mrsophable has been following with increasing distress the catastrophe that is unfolding (ever faster) in our oceans since I've known him (12 years now).

The issue of farmed salmon is one of a number of areas that he has been concerned about for years. I've been listening to this for a long time.

So when he couldn't make the webchat yesterday due to work, I rolled my sleeves up and tried my best to ask the questions and make the points that I felt he would have specifically with regard to farmed salmon (as that is the one that I have most concern about because of ds and therefore know the most about).

I felt a bit dissatisfied with the response from Quentin the Waitrose chief fish buyer, whilst acknowledging that credit is due to Waitrose for at least engaging with this crucial debate.

I'd really appreciate you all reading the post the MrSophable took the trouble to write late last night:

Heathcliffscathy Tue 23-Jun-09 14:28:20

With all due humility I'd like to add a couple of things to this debate and explain my misgivings about farmed fish in particular, probably unnecessarily as my lovely wife has already made a better case than I ever could. Apologies in advance for a post that will inevitably be too long.

As Quentin said the main issues were- environmental impact, welfare, and sustainability. I would add a fourth - health.

-taking the health issue first: the 2004 research of Hites et al in Science which found dangerous levels of PCB's was based on a survey of 2 tonnes of atlantic salmon. Thats a lot of fish. The conclusion that US and Candian salmon should only be consumed once a month, and scottish salmon consumption would be best restricted to 3 meals a year, is based on the US Environmental Agency's idea of what is a safe level of PCB's (its in the order of 30 parts per billion i believe). Its worth noting that salmon farmers- generally employees of a handful of huge corporations who divvy up this multi billion pound industry- have so far been unable to produce any substantive (in fact I can't seem to find any at all) research to contradict these findings. Instead they use the FDA's 1984 assessment of 'safe' levels of PCB's (2000 parts per billion). Personally I'm not comfortable with that. Quentin was right that PCBs are present in a lot of what we eat but in farmed salmon the levels are unacceptably high in my opinion.
Nor am I comfortable with a food that has been treated with marine toxins like SLICE which is required to kill the plague like infestations of sea lice which infest cages (salmon were simply not built to exist in confined spaces throughout their life cycle). I don't much like the idea of my fish supper having rubbed its fins partially off on cages treated with anti fouling paints -usually Flexgard which is stored in containers marked 'toxic to acquatic organsisms). Another survey found that parasites like tapeworms have been passed on in Chilean farmed salmon when eaten raw. And I worry about antibiotics used on farmed salmon with unknown impact on those consuming the fish.

-Environmentally: salmon farming has a terrible environmental record and continues to cause significant and scary damage to the environment. Just a few of the issues: escaped fish (millions of them) outcompeting wild fish and diluting their gene pools not to mention spreading diseases to local wild populations; anti fouling chemicals used on the cages leave heavy metal residues (a 2007 survey found extremely high levels of copper and cadmium on sea beds benath farms);farm induced sea lice infestations have very probably caused the catastrophic decline of wild populations of migratory fish ...and we can go on (all of the health issues for humans consuming farmed salmon are played out in the acquatic life found in fjords and sea lochs where the farms are based- contaminated shellfish, algal blooms etc etc).

-Welfare: atlantic salmon are a migratory fish. in farms they are packed in, often allocated the equivalent of a bathtub of water each-its battery farming. To me its questionable at best but I think its the least of the problems.

-sustainability: taking 3 pounds of wild fish and rendering it into pellets to raise one pound of farmed salmon cannot, in my opinion, be sustainable. In a world of food shortages its insane.It decreases the net amount of protein . Anchovies and sand eels and all sorts of juvenile fish are being hoovered up to feed farmed salmon. Krill too now. These populations are being overfished in a way that is not sustainable. In fact one third of the total world catch is ground up into fsh meal (approx 30 million tonnes in 2007) and 3 5 million tonnes of that goes to feed salmon.
So Waitrose support a film which is all about overfishing while selling and indeed promoting a product which drives overfishing . Its more defensible on grounds of sustainability to eat a mature cod which has at least had time to breed in its life, than to eat farmed salmon.
Seabird populations appear to be in decline, and we know wild fsh populations are suffering on a number of fronts- salmon farming has to be making that worse.
Salmon can be raised with a lower ratio of wild fish in their feed but then the Omega 3 level starts dropping as Quentin himself pointed out.

I think Waitrose should be respected if not applauded for at least engaging in the debate (cf. Tescos, Sainsburys et al). Of course they are cashing in on a 'green' issue, using the film to give themselves an edge. Thats OK- if the film has provoked any change thats good news, but they need to be consistent, not just engage in token support, or take the convenient way out of what Quentin rightly said was a very complex debate.

Farming fish undoubtedly has a crucial role to play in the long term solution to the fishing crisis but salmon farming as currently practised is not part of the solution its a big pat of the crisis.

Sorry-gone on for far too long and I haven't even got started on farmed prawns!

ComeOVeneer Tue 23-Jun-09 14:30:25

Was very interested in this yesterday soph. Thanks for posting. Farmed salmon will most certainly not grace my table any more!

Heathcliffscathy Tue 23-Jun-09 14:32:53

Quentin has come back today offering to fly me up to scotland to look at the fish farms (one or all???) myself.

I really think that dh should be the one to do that, he will know the questions to ask and what to look for.

Either way this is a great opportunity for one of us to find out about this on your (and public's) behalf and to get the whole issue of how we carry on eating the fish we love whilst not destroying the environment and our bodies in the process into the public domain.

As dh said, it may not seem like a huge issue to you, particularly if you don't even like fish, but it ties in with everything that we're facing as a species: sustainability, the impact of industrialised farming practices, employment, health and, without wishing to sound overdramatic, our children's futures. If we continue to mess with our oceans at the rate that we have been, there will be nothing but jelly fish and crabs left, with cataclysmic results for the planet as a whole.

Blu Tue 23-Jun-09 14:38:01

I have not bought farmed salmon for years.

Apart from anything else, it is (IMO) disgusting. Bright orange, greasy, flabby, fatty, and sickly to taste.

And I have been following the disaster that is the lochs and marine environment affected by it.

Could MrSophable kindly answer a question?

As an alternative, I buy the frozen bags of wild pacific (or maybe it as alaskan?) salmon - produced / packaged by Young's I think and in the freezer cabinet of Sainsbury's et al. Is this OK? It has the drier, flakier texture of wild salmon and is a more re-assuring shade of delicate pink, but would that be the canadian salmon that is only safe to eat 3 or 4 times a year? Eek - I give it to DS every week!

Lulumama Tue 23-Jun-09 14:38:07

have just read it all and am really interested

fish welfare does not seem to capture our imaginations and consciences as much as say , chickens.. maybe fish aren;t as photogenic hmm

anyhoo, after watching blood , sweat and takeaways, i have been rather put off various foods now, but am also worried that not buying those things- such as prawns from Thailand will have severe financial consequences for the fish farmers.

it is really concerning

you and MrSophable must keep us all posted

Blu Tue 23-Jun-09 14:39:16

oh, Soph, GO!

midnightexpress Tue 23-Jun-09 14:40:56

Sophable, will CAT you about this. Have a contact you might be interested in if you or MrS do go.

Kathyis6incheshigh Tue 23-Jun-09 14:41:28

Couldn't read webchat properly cos at work, but thanks to both of you for engaging in this in such a detailed way. It is really, really important.

madwomanintheattic Tue 23-Jun-09 14:44:00

sophable - that sounds like a great opportunity, make sure you take them up on it.

has mrsophable been on such visits before?

if he is a 'name' in the debate, waitrose might offer to host you both - particularly if it is likely to result in good pr grin

it could be useful for dh as well as giving you the opportunity for back-up lol?

definitely worth giving it a whirl anyway. will watch out for info smile

Heathcliffscathy Tue 23-Jun-09 14:44:09

blu, mrsophable will be on later, but i don't think that wild alaskan salmon has the problems associated with it that farmed does.

however, i suspect that there is still an accumulation of heavy metals as salmon is quite high up in the food chain (i could be wrong about this though).

lulu, it isn't so much about fish welfare as our welfare is the same as with all forms of industrialised farming: there are consequences, some of them dire.

OhBling Tue 23-Jun-09 17:11:30

I was following it Sophable and while I didn't always follow your arguments, I thought you asked your questions very clearly and got very disappointing responses. Which is a pity.

I think you and/or MrS should definitely take them up on their offer and go up there as the MN representative who actually understands this stuff. It's a great opportunity for you and the rest of us would benefit as we would know that while you're passionate about this, you don't have any vested interests (excluding general health and welfare of course).

ggglimpopo Tue 23-Jun-09 17:18:30

I am really into this now Soph, following a leaflet passed to me in the street by someone from Greenpeace. I had never liked the idea of farmed fish, but the leaflet made terrible reading and since reading it I have found out more and more about just what the hell we are doing to our oceans - and feeding our children.

Did you see that programme during the bird flu scare about the prawns - the chickens were farmed in cages suspended over cages of water with hundreds of prawns in each cage. THe prawns were being fed solely on chicken shit, and then being exported by the bucket load to Europe.....

Bravo to you both!

FiveGoMadInDorset Tue 23-Jun-09 17:22:38

Well done you to, will be interesting to see how the trip goes.

I also by wild alaskan salmon as it has abetter taste and is cheaper.

FiveGoMadInDorset Tue 23-Jun-09 17:23:51

And as I said on the other thread that is the only fishI buy from a supermarket, the rest I buy from my local fisherman so it can be hit and miss what you get.

MirandaBailey Tue 23-Jun-09 17:29:33

Didn't see the webchat and it was something that I was only very vaguely aware of (sea lice etc).

Good on yer both!

Blu Tue 23-Jun-09 17:31:41


I have now seen that since the packaging has been changed, it no longer says 'wild'.

But it isn't orange and greasy...

I wonder if it is farmed? shock


mollyroger Tue 23-Jun-09 17:35:18

as a family of fish-lovers (and with really picky children) this is close to our hearst (and stomachs)
We try and be eco-aware but we we are also on a very small budget and I tend to go on 'any fish is better than no fish'.
Having said that, my children have been trained not to ask for haddock or cod due to over-fishing and it rally pisses me off that in our local asda, the only options they ever really have are: prawns, farmed salmon, cod or haddock...

well done for speaking out and enjoy your trip, if you go for it!

Blu Tue 23-Jun-09 17:48:27

oho, I see that there are bags of wild and non-wild....
labelled 'wild'

Be careful out there, pop pickers!

<<rushes home to see which one we have in the freezer>>

abraid Tue 23-Jun-09 18:04:09

We hve organic farmed salmon--it's not that orange colour. Is this OK?

Cies Tue 23-Jun-09 18:12:55

Well done for you sophable for pursuing this. I hope the trip to the fish farms can offer you and us all some answers.

FWIW I have avoided farmed fish for a while now as my SIL works for a large Spanish fish company and basically doesn't agree with much of what is done in her factory. But I live in Spain where the variety of non farmed fish is much greater and we can enjoy fish a couple of times a week for no more cost than meat.

BonsoirAnna Tue 23-Jun-09 18:20:15

If I buy farmed salmon (occasional purchase only) I buy French farmed salmon because it has less fat on it than Scottish or other sorts. It is also more expensive. However, I would be interested to know about its other qualities.

Heathcliffscathy Tue 23-Jun-09 21:38:24

dh is typing away with steam coming off his laptop. blu and cies and anna you can expect answers any minute. from the sounds of the typing it is epic

MrSophable Tue 23-Jun-09 21:49:05

Blu- as you noticed Youngs package both 'wild alaskan salmon' (generally the alaskan salmon fisheries are regarded as being managed sustainably) and non-wild (it should say "Farmed" in big letter IMO)which come from Norwegian farms. Norwegian farms don't have a happy history- entire river systems in Norway have been infected with nasty fish diseases incubated in farms and then spread by escapees, and the only solution has been to poison and wipe out all life in those rivers before repopulating with captive raised stock.

The colour of the fish is not an entirely sure guide to its provenance. Wild alaskan salmon can be a pretty lurid shade of pink. The farmers get to choose the colour of the flesh in their product . Hoffman La Roche make the artificial colourants and produce a colour chart just like Dulux . I am told that the soil association do not approve the use of artifiical colourants in organic salmon. I am trying to get to the bottom of ho organic salmon then ends up the various shades it does. i suspect this will be achieved by increasing the amount of naturally occurring pigments( like astaxanthin ) found in krill and shrimp....this means we're back to the vast amount of wild seafood rendered down to raise each kilo of farmed salmon. Sustainable this surely cannot be.

I must reiterate that Waitrose should be applauded for engaging at all. Sure we can be cynical and say there's a marketing angle for them- and there is , but then it will surely be market forces which solve these issues ultimately...if they ever get solved.

I look forward to talking to Quentin. He seems willing to try and answer the big questions and given that most fish farmers simply refuse to engage in the debate thats commendable and progress. If I'm honest i think he's going to struggle to provide evidence to prove that waitrose farmed salmon is fed from proven sustainable fisheries...but we'll see.

And I also need to applaud my lovely and extraordinary wife because whilst i sit around the place moaning about things like this she gets on and does something about it.

FiveGoMadInDorset Tue 23-Jun-09 21:51:30

MrSophable and Sophable, when we eat salmon which to be honest is not alot I do get what Tescos describe as Wild Alaskan Salmon, is this OK, Otherwise I go for pot luck an whatever my friends husband has caught.

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