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Is Farm-Raised Salmon Healthy?

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

Wild-caught salmon is an incredibly nutritious fish rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, most of the salmon you eat is likely farmed Atlantic salmon raised on commercial salmon farms. 


Eating wild salmon has profound health benefits. Wild-caught salmon contains significantly lower concentrations of harmful pollutants than farmed fish and isn't exposed to synthetic dye and GMO-containing feed.


Learn why eating farmed salmon may be the wrong choice for your health and what to look for when choosing salmon so you can make confident choices and lower your exposure to harmful contaminants.

Wild pacific salmon

What is farm-raised salmon?


Farmed salmon, also known as aquaculture salmon, is raised in a controlled environment such as fish farms, submerged mesh cages, or hatcheries. 


Most farm-raised Atlantic salmon is grown in saltwater pens in the ocean. Farmed fish are typically fed with an unnatural processed feed containing GMO crops, animal by-products, and synthetic dye. 


Salmon farms deprive fish of their natural habitat, and overcrowded pens commonly result in inhumane living conditions. Farmed salmon is more likely to develop disease and parasitic infections, including sea lice infestations.


Farmed fish products regularly contain more harmful contaminants—including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and heavy metals—than wild salmon. 


Large amounts of farmed salmon escape yearly, posing significant environmental concerns such as transmitting diseases to wild populations of native fish. 


Watch the video below to learn more about the problems with farm-raised salmon. 

Farm-raised vs. wild-caught salmon


While farmed salmon is raised in factory farms, wild salmon is caught in their natural habitat. Most wild-caught salmon comes from the rivers and oceans of the Atlantic and Northern Pacific regions.


In contrast to farm-raised fish, wild salmon benefit from their natural habitat and diet. Wild fish are generally healthier, have a higher nutrient content than farmed fish, and contain lower contaminant levels.


Wild-caught salmon feed on a natural diet, including krill and shrimp that contain astaxanthin, a reddish pigment responsible for salmon's typical pink color. Salmon farmers don't provide krill or other seafood to their livestock and rely instead on synthetic astaxanthin, an artificial dye, to achieve pink flesh.


Wild-caught salmon is more nutritious and has a better taste and texture than farmed salmon.

Atlantic salmon fish farming

The dangers of farm-raised salmon


Research indicates that frequent consumption of farm-raised salmon can cause health concerns and may increase your risk of cancer, hormonal imbalances, and fertility problems.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Farmed salmon is fed ground-up fishmeal containing concentrated fish oils to stimulate rapid growth. Harmful PCBs and heavy metals accumulate in the fats and oils of marine life, and farmed salmon consistently has higher levels of contaminants than wild salmon.


The concentration of PCBs in farmed salmon can be up to eight times higher than in wild-caught salmon.


PCBs are persistent carcinogenic pollutants that increase cancer risk, including liver, bladder, breast, and brain cancer. Exposure to dioxin, a PCB commonly found in farmed salmon, is linked to fertility issues, hormonal imbalances, and liver damage and negatively impacts the central nervous system.  


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) 

Most farmed salmon is regularly treated with antibiotics and fed a diet containing GMO crops, including soy and corn.


Consuming genetically modified foods is linked to several health risks, including impaired liver health, fertility problems, and gastrointestinal symptoms. 


Synthetic astaxanthin  

Salmon feed is regularly supplemented with an artificial dye that colors salmon flesh pink. Synthetic astaxanthin differs from its natural form and displays significantly different effects on cells and tissues. 


This study summarizes that the potential impacts of synthetic dyes on health need to be sufficiently understood, and the long-term safety of artificial astaxanthin intake still needs to be established.  


Check out the video below to learn more about why you shouldn't eat farmed salmon.  

Health benefits of wild-caught salmon


Wild salmon is a rich source of healthy fish oils with well-documented benefits for your brain, vision, and cardiovascular health.


Brain health 

Eating salmon is a healthy choice to support your brain and lower the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.


Marine omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for brain development and brain health. Most lipids in your central nervous system contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid found in fish oil. 


DHA is needed to grow brain cells, stimulates the repair and renewal of neurons, and promotes balanced nerve impulse transmission across the central nervous system. 


Healthy vision

Fish oils are excellent for eye health and promote healthy vision. Omega-3 fats are a structural component of the retina and stimulate blood flow to the delicate structures in your eyes. 


Omega-3 fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory properties that protect the eye from inflammation and harmful oxidation by free radicals, which are metabolic by-products that can cause cellular damage and chronic inflammation.


Regularly consuming omega-3-rich foods—including wild salmon—can lower your risk of glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. 


Heart health 

Omega-3 fatty acids' benefits to heart health are well-understood. These potent anti-inflammatory fatty acids promote a healthy cardiovascular system and lower the risk of heart disease.


Fish oil raises heart-healthy HDL cholesterol, promotes healthy blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of blood clots and arterial plaques linked to heart attacks and stroke. 

Pacific salmon

Key takeaways


Farmed salmon contains more PCBs than wild-caught fish and is typically fed a GMO diet containing synthetic dye to color the flesh pink. Regularly eating farmed salmon may increase your risk of cancer, fertility issues, and weight gain. 


Eating wild salmon is an excellent choice for your health. Wild-caught salmon is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats and contains fewer contaminants—including PCBs and heavy metals—compared to farmed salmon.


Choose wild-caught salmon products whenever possible to take advantage of salmon's health benefits while avoiding additives like synthetic dye. Check labels and choose sockeye, coho, king, and Alaskan salmon, which are always wild-caught. 



FAQ


1. What is farm-raised salmon?

Farmed salmon is raised in large land-based tanks or fish farms in oceans or freshwater lakes. These fish don't have access to their natural environment and are typically grown on a highly concentrated fish feed that stimulates rapid growth.


2. Is it okay to eat farm-raised salmon?

Eating farm-raised salmon can have negative health implications. Farm-raised salmon are fed GMO crops, synthetic dye, and ground-up fishmeal commonly contaminated with environmental pollutants, including PCBs and other trace metals.


PCBs are linked to the development of cancer and fertility issues, and long-term studies on the safety of synthetic dyes are missing.


3. What’s the difference between farm-raised and wild-caught?

While farm-raised salmon comes from large industrialized salmon farms, wild salmon is caught in their natural environment. Wild-caught fish typically contain lower levels of harmful PCBs than farmed salmon.


Wild salmon eats krill and other small seafood that gives salmon its pink flesh. In contrast, farmed salmon don't have access to a natural diet and are fed synthetic dye to achieve a pink color.


4. Is farm-raised salmon as healthy as wild-caught?

No, farm-raised salmon typically has lower levels of nutrients and contains higher levels of harmful PCBs and persistent organic pollutants linked to several health concerns, including fertility problems, cancer, and hormonal imbalances.


Farmed salmon are fed an unnatural diet containing GMO crops and synthetic dye to stimulate the development of salmon's pink color. There are no long-term safety studies about artificial dye, and some research indicates an increased risk of chronic inflammation and cancer.

 

5. How are salmon farmed?

Salmon farming typically takes place in two stages. Salmon eggs are hatched and raised in large land-based freshwater tanks. Juvenile fish are transferred to large fish farms or cages in Atlantic coastal waters or freshwater lakes, where they are kept until they mature.


6. Is dye used to make salmon pink?

Yes, farmed fish naturally is gray, and fish farmers typically add synthetic dye to the fish feed to achieve pink flesh.


7. Can farm-raised salmon make you fat?

Evidence suggests that regularly eating farm-raised salmon can lead to weight gain. 


Farm-raised salmon can contain high levels of PCBs, a persistent pollutant linked to weight gain. PCBs can result in hormonal imbalances that may lead to increased accumulation of fat cells, imbalanced metabolic hormone levels, and type-2 diabetes.

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