Is Fish Truly Healthy to Eat or Has That Ship Sailed? And, is farmed fish really healthier than ocean fish?

Laurie Powell

Laurie Powell

Guest Contributor | BIO

As I look to reduce my intake of factory-farmed animals such as cows, pigs, and chickens, I wondered if eating more fish would be a healthier alternative. I decided to look into the topical debate of the health merits of eating ocean fish versus farmed fish.

President of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Kim A. Williams was asked about the heart health benefits of eating fish versus eating mammals in the film What the Health by Kip Anderson.  Dr. Williams says, “With fish you have the four worries: PCBs, mercury, saturated fat, and cholesterol. The cholesterol is varied, depending on the fish. Salmon and tilapia have more cholesterol than a pork chop.” Hmmm… salmon and tilapia also happen to be the two most popular fish to be farm-raised.

So why all the hype about farmed fish being healthier? Is this a case of factory-farmed fish? Ooh, I should trademark that! Factory-farmed mammals come with a host of unhealthy issues like added growth hormones, antibiotics, and other contaminants that are endemic in raising animals in an artificial environment. Without sunlight, room to move freely, and the ability to reproduce naturally, factory-farmed animals are loaded with stress hormones like cortisol. You’re literally eating their unhappiness and terror.

So like mammal and poultry flesh foods, it is important for you to know the source of the fish flesh you consume and how it was raised whenever you buy fish or eat it in a restaurant.

One of the supposed healthiest fish you can eat is wild caught salmon due to its high levels of protein, potassium, selenium, vitamin B12, et cetera. Salmon is most desirable for the omega-3 fatty acids (both DHA and EPA) which the body cannot produce on its own. Omega-3s support cardiovascular health, and nerve and brain function. But, due to the fatty nature of salmon, toxic mercury binds with the fat, and makes eating salmon a fish you should consume in limited quantities. For more information on the dangers of eating fish containing mercury or the amount of mercury in our water supply, check out the World Mercury Project.

A 2004 study in the journal, Science found that farmed salmon had significantly higher levels of contaminants than their wild counterparts. The study went so far as to suggest that the health risks may outweigh the health benefits of eating salmon.

Ocean fish contain dangerously high levels of mercury. Yet the supposedly healthier farmed fish are even worse to eat because they have higher concentrations of PCBs, heavy metals, and other toxins.

Farmed fish are regularly fed diets of ground up ocean fish. So, they have a doubled toxicity load. Farmed fish have similar health threats as chicken and beef. They are treated with antibiotics and antifungals to prevent infections. Pesticides and herbicides sprayed directly on the fish farm tanks accumulate in the fish flesh that we unknowingly ingest.

Geographic location plays a key role in the mercury content of salmon, both wild and farm raised. The 2004 Science study identified European farm-raised salmon as having higher amounts of mercury. In terms of wild salmon, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes similar variations with its Fish Advisories web page advice, which provides information about potential hazards of consuming wild salmon from certain areas. Variations may exist because of industry concentration, as well as geological factors.

While food shopping, I noticed that Whole Foods sells farm-raised fish from their own proprietary fish farms in Norway. Normally, I would trust Whole Foods over a fish monger that I don’t know. But, I wanted to be certain.  If you visit the Whole Foods website, you can watch a video filmed in a fiord in Norway that portrays the image of cleanliness, freshness, sustainability, and safety of their house brand of farm-raised fish. As if Whole Foods had higher standards for health and safety than anyone else – farmed fish you can trust. Fish farms in Norwegian fiords?! Sounds so clean and healthy, right? But, if you asked if you could visit their fish farm to inspect it, you will be denied access.  What are they hiding?

A search on YouTube yielded a video of the Whole Foods Norwegian fish farm that was covertly videotaped from a distance. The camera caught footage of men in Hazmat suits spraying the fish in their fiord tanks with pesticides and antifungals and who knows what else? “Norwegian fish is the most toxic food you have in the whole world,” says Kurt Oddekalv, a preeminent and respected Norwegian environmental activist with the Green Warriors of Norway.  Kurt shot this surveillance footage of fish farms in the Norwegian fiords. As you watch, right at the beginning, you will see farm workers dressed in Hazmat suits and wearing gasmasks as they spray the tank with pesticides. If a human needs to wear a Hazmat suit to treat your food, you probably don’t want to eat that food.

If you can’t eat the Norwegian factory-farmed fish from Whole Foods, how healthy do you think the fish must be that come from Southeast Asia? As you will see in that same YouTube film, Vietnamese fish farms are given huge amounts of specially made food containing fat and protein that causes them to grow to full size in just six months, which is twice as fast as they would grow naturally. Panga, the fish shown in the film, are the most popular fish in France because of their low price. The French eat Panga fish under the assumption that they are eating a healthier fish product because it is farm-raised. Watch that video and make your own decision.

A toxic Monsanto chemical called ethoxyquin is found in fish feed at 10—20x the legal level. It is strictly regulated in produce and animal food products. But, ethoxyquin had not been tested for its effects on human health when it was introduced to fish feed. The data was compiled by the Norwegian State Research Institute. But, lead researcher, Victoria Bohne was pressured into changing the results of her data demonstrating that brain damage and carcinogenic effects were discovered in the chemical food additive. That chemical crosses the blood brain barrier and exists in harmful quantities in factory-farmed fish in Norway. But, she was dismissed from her position and is prohibited from publishing her findings in a scientific journal. There are several researchers who have been accused of falsifying their findings and subsequently lost clinical trial funding.

The person who is prohibiting these findings is the Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen. She governs and controls all the fish farming regulations. Prior to holding her position as Minister, she was on the boards of several for-profit fisheries. She still owns financial interest (as in major shareholder) in several fish production companies. Conflict of interest? Yes. Not fair? Yes. Not balanced? Yes. Hence, poison fish flesh from Norway.

Not only do unhealthy fish fillets come from Norwegian factory-farmed fish. The remnants (heads, bones, tails, et cetera) are taken by refrigerated dump trucks to fish processing factories that turns it into sludge that is frozen into blocks and shipped to customers. Who would buy frozen fish sludge, you may ask? Pet food companies, fast food companies who make it into fish sandwiches, processed food companies who sell frozen fish products like fish cakes, fish sticks, you get the picture.

An oncologist in this YouTube exposé recommends that, to prevent cancer, you don’t eat much big fish, like salmon or tuna. Limit your intake to 1-2x a month. Eat small fish, rich in Omega-3s and Vitamin B and limit intake to no more than 2-3x a week.

For this article, I only wrote about the fish production in Norway because I’m not writing a book. I haven’t even touched on what happens to the fish from Finland. Even 20 years after Chernobyl, it is still radioactive. I won’t get into factory-farmed fish products like shrimp, raised here in the states, or from Southeast Asia. But, I encourage you to do some research of your own. You will be appalled and will rethink your food choices.

This is not a column to scare you. It is educational and meant to prompt you to question where your food comes from. We’re on this journey to health together. When we are confident that our food is raised healthily and responsibly, we will see an improvement in our health.

How will this new information affect your diet? Feel free to comment below.

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Laurie Powell

Guest Contributor

One Comment

Musa Kazmi

This was really eye opening as i had also heard that whole foods farmed fish was supposedly healthy. I was always suspicious. I was doing some research and I actually found this company that delivers wild caught fish to your door (sea2table). They’re certified by seafoodwatch which seems to be a reputable source so i’ll be trying their fish out.


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