Archive for June 15th, 2009

farmed fishThe waiter opens with, “Tonight’s seafood special is a fillet of lightly grilled Organic Maine Salmon in a USDA Organic Reduction Sauce consisting of the essence of Organic Lemon and Organic Artisanal Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Messina region of north east Sicily and finished in the oven…” I stopped listening at the Organic Salmon part. “What is Organic Salmon and who says its Organic?” I ask. He replies, “our highly renowned fishmonger, of course”. I placed my order for the “Organic Salmon” all the while questioning myself on how a fish could be certified as organic.

So what really is “Organic Salmon”? And who besides this “highly renowned fishmonger” certifies that this Salmon is organic? Please note that I have been involved in the organic movement since owning an organic farm in Maine in the 70’s. Then in the 80’s-90’s I owned the Bread of Life Natural Foods Markets, which evolved into the largest Natural and Organic Supermarket in the Southeast U.S. My Plantation, Florida store was voted Store of the Year in 1996 by Whole Foods Business Magazine. I ultimately sold my three stores to Whole Foods Markets in the late 90’s and remained on as the Regional Vice President for several years. This gives me some street cred when it comes to all things organic.

All of us are very familiar with the green and white circle USDA Organic Seal on many products. It is an outgrowth of the Natural Organic Program (NOP) created by congress in the 1990’s. In 2002 only agricultural products that were grown following verifiable organic methods and certified by a qualified certifier were permitted to use the USDA Organic Seal.  This is no child’s play either; the law was very strict which made me happy. I did not want to see scammers getting into the biz trying to make a quick buck and destroying the movement’s credibility. As a matter of fact the law had some very sharp teeth, “A civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each offense can be levied on any person who knowingly sells or labels as organic a product that is not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organics Program’s regulations.” These standards applied to produce, meat and poultry, not seafood. In other words there is no USDA organic standard for fish and seafood. Something is starting to smell fishy to me!!! How about you?

Most of the Salmon today is farmed raised. Fish farms. Aquaculture, the fish version of agriculture is the largest producer of commercial salmon.  So what are these fish farms like and what’s the problem? The first problem I see is the physical properties of a fish farm. They consist of large pens in the ocean that keeps the salmon inside. It keeps predators out as well.  Picture thousands of salmon all living in a pen in the ocean. They are constantly eating and pooping. Some say that the currents flush out the debris from the pen. It looks s like it needs lots of flushing. Since there are so many fish together in one concentrated area the farmers feed them feed pellets that are laced with antibiotics in order to prevent a bacterial infection or sea lice from wiping out the crop of fish like a Salmon Flu. Some of these farmed fish escape from their pens which can cause harm to the wild salmon population.

 Most of the pellet food the salmon is fed is not organic. Take for comparison organic chicken. They must be fed exclusively organic feed. Antibiotics are not permitted in the feed. The birds must have access to open areas, the so-called free-range organic chicken. When fish are raised in pens one realizes the lack of sustainability in the system. Although the pens are moved from one area to another there is still toxic effluent left in the wake. The pollution can be devastating to whole areas of the ocean as well as other fish and fauna.

Again I ask you, “What is an Organic Salmon?” Is it a fish that is fed pellets of non-organic feed possibly laced with antibiotics?  Does it spend its entire life closed in a pen, squished in with thousands of genetically alike fish? Is it raised in a small concentrated pen teeming with bacteria and other possible toxins? Well here is my answer to the pressing question, “what is organic salmon?” THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ORGANIC SALMON. PERIOD!!! This beast does not exist yet. It is a marketing ploy and has the potential to harm the great work of the current organic standards that exist under the NOP. It can only add confusion. The term “Organic Salmon” must not be used until the USDA creates standards under the NOP.

Take note that farmed raised salmon appears very red in the fish case at the store. At first you may think this means it is better or fresher than the less red wild caught. In fact, wild caught salmon has a natural red color whereas farm raised salmon  gets it red color from red food dyes because farm raised is naturally very pale. The deep reds you see in the fish case at the store is because the producers add red food color to the farm raised fish to make them more marketable to customers since customers relate red to salmon. I am not a fan of additives to mask things. Many shoppers select salmon because of its healthful omega friendly fats. In fact, the farm raised salmon has very low levels of these healthy oils, which are found in high quantities in wild salmon.

Wild Salmon is a much better choice in my humble opinion. It contains high levels of the healthy omega-3 fish oils, which everyone is looking for these days. It was not fed some antibiotic feed pellets. It does not have any red dye food color to enhance its appearance. So when I am at the store I try to go to the wild side and avoid the “Organic” hype in the fish case.

Epp-BEE-Log: If you remember three things you will never be thought of as gullible or dumb. 1) There is no Santa Clause. 2) There is no Tooth Fairy. 3) And there ain’t no such thing as “Organic Salmon”.


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