In July, a book with the title “Salmon wars” was published. The content of the book mirrors the title, leaving behind an impression that farmed salmon should be avoided for several reasons. As The Norwegian Seafood Council answered out several questions we received from the book’s authors, we will also set aside time to provide our views on some of the claims put forward in the book.
Like most forms of food production, aquaculture of salmon also leaves its footprint. Be it local emissions or emissions of CO2. However, there are also well documented upsides with farming of seafood and should readers of Salmon Wars decide to also listen to the likes of The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, they may be surprised to hear that aquaculture of seafood is identified as a key area for future food production.
This is due to the fact that seafood is full of nutrients important for human health and that farming of seafood is a relatively efficient method of producing protein. This in terms of feed, land, and water usage. Not to forget carbon emissions, one of the great battles the world is facing today. These factors are also some of the reasons why salmon farming companies have topped the list as most sustainable protein producers in international rankings over the last couple of years.
Contrary to what the book may lead readers to believe, farmed Norwegian salmon is by competent food authorities deemed as safe and healthy food. Levels of environmental pollutants, an issue raised in the book, have been reduced by some 60-70 percent over the last 15 years, which now means that farmed Norwegian salmon actually contains lower levels than many of its wild peers. It is therefore not correct, as claimed in the book, that levels of environmental pollutants are higher in farmed salmon than wild salmon. That being said, farmed and wild salmon are both deemed as safe and healthy food options.
The reason behind the drop of environmental pollutants in farmed salmon has to do with changes in feed composition. Whereas the feed earlier consisted of some 90 percent of marine ingredients, the main source of environmental pollutants, the inclusion rate has dropped to some 20-30 percent - leading to significantly lower levels. Environmental pollutants are also present in most foods available to us, and is not unique to farmed salmon. Monitoring of environmental pollutants is rightfully part of benefit-risk assessments carried out on various consumer food products available to us, including Norwegian salmon.
The change in feed composition also demonstrates that the industry has managed to become less dependent on marine ingredients. Salmon wars paints an image of salmon and feed companies being responsible for depletion of fish stocks. For many years now, the industry has strictly been sourcing marine ingredients from certified fisheries which are well managed with quota systems in place. The vast majority of the fish species used for feed are low in demand in terms of human consumption. Lastly, a great deal of the marine ingredients derive from fish offal, which is an efficient use of raw materials. The change within feed is real and being able to adapt will also be key for the future.
Use of antibiotics has been close to eradicated within Norwegian salmon farming, an effort which has received international recognition as antibiotic resistance has been identified as a major global health challenge moving forward. Today, less than one percent of all Norwegian salmon receives antibiotics in its lifetime, and if treated, a strict quarantine period is required to make sure that no residuals end up in products reaching the supermarket shelves.
Every year, Norwegian Food Authorities conducts thorough analyses of undesirable substances in farmed salmon. The yearly reports are readily available to the public. A wider benefit risk assessment was also recently conducted by The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food and Environment, which concludes that the benefits of eating fish (farmed salmon included) outweigh the risks.
By farming volumes, Norway is the largest salmon farmer in the world. It goes without saying that Norwegian fish farmers have a great responsibility towards its environmental surroundings and wildlife. By following the book’s narrative, one would think that numerous fish farms must come at the expense of wild salmon populations. It may therefore come as a surprise that despite Norway’s fish farming activities, Norway continues to host to some of the richest wild salmon populations in the world. The decline in many of the world’s wild salmon rivers have taken place in many regions in the world, also in regions where no salmon farming activities are conducted. This goes to show that there are likely other contributing factors than fish farming alone. Further, the industry has numerous measures in place to avoid escapes and dedicated re-catching programs to minimize its impact on wild salmon populations.
The Norwegian Seafood Council urge all consumers and stakeholders of Norwegian salmon to look into some of the claims made in the book, as we believe they will be surprised to see that the picture is quite different than what “Salmon Wars” portrays.