July 31, 2003

PCBs in Farmed Salmon: Recommendations


  • For consumers, choose wild and canned salmon instead of farmed, and eat an eight-ounce serving of farmed salmon no more than once a month. Trim fat from fish before cooking, and choose broiling, baking, or grilling over frying, as these cooking methods allow the PCB-laden fat to cook off the fish.
  • Congress should pass a funding increase for FDA to support testing of farmed salmon and other protein sources for PCBs, and to review the PCB standard for salmon and other commercial seafood, with a view toward achieving convergence on the more protective and contemporary EPA standard.
  • The Food and Drug Administration must move quickly to conduct a definitive study of PCB contamination in farmed salmon, and make all results public. This testing is critical, since FDA will be unable to regulate PCBs in farmed salmon until they conduct these studies. FDA is charged with ensuring that commercially-sold seafood is safe to eat, but currently has little data on the distribution of PCB concentrations in the farmed salmon supply. The FDA’s existing testing program targets a handful of fish a year and does not provide the FDA with the data needed to assess potential public health impacts for the estimated 52 million Americans eating salmon. Testing carries heightened importance because of the rapid growth of farmed salmon consumption, increasing population-wide at an average yearly rate of 0.16 pounds per person (NFI 2001).
  • The FDA must issue a PCB health advisory for seafood consumption in line with current PCB health guidance issued by the EPA.
  • The farmed salmon industry should shift aquaculture practices to produce fish lower in PCBs. Farmed salmon carry higher PCB loads not only because the fish fat itself contains more PCBs, but because the salmon farming industry intentionally fattens the fish to maximize market weight (Jacobs 2002). Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that farmed salmon contain 52 percent more fat than wild (USDA 2002). Salmon fat itself can be a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, essential nutrients important to fetal brain development and linked to reductions in the occurrence or symptoms of headaches, cramps, arthritis, autoimmune disease, other inflammatory diseases, hardening of the arteries, and heart attacks. However, by consuming too much farmed salmon, some people in the U.S. may be exceeding government guidelines to protect against immune system damage, fetal brain damage, and cancer associated with the PCBs that lace salmon fat.
  • The federal government should regulate salmon farming practices to protect wild salmon populations. Currently, standard salmon farming practices can endanger wild salmon populations through environmental pollution (feces, pesticides, and antibiotics), through the spread of pathogens and parasites from tightly-packed fishpens to surrounding waters, and through the accidental but common release of non-native species that could interbreed with and overrun native salmon populations. Wild Pacific salmon are a unique, healthy resource that cannot be duplicated in a fish farm, and that stand to be harmed by current farming practices.