Dear Harriet Sugar Miller: Please do more research

This week a series of articles has appeared in the Montreal Gazette, promoting “freelance health journalist” and “research nut” Harriet Sugar Miller and her opinions about salmon.

Miller runs a blog all about how people can eat healthier to avoid cancer. This is a good thing, except her statements about salmon rely on old and outdated information, despite her claims of doing “six months of research.”

Guess she didn’t use our library of science about farmed salmon and human health.

Although farmed Atlantic salmon is “much cleaner than it used to be,” intake should be limited to 200 to 250 grams per week,” Miller says in the article.

There is no basis for this consumption limit, especially since the World Health Organization and FDA suggest no such limits, nor can we find any such limits in science papers from the past five years.

That’s because as we pointed out in February, there is no need to worry about PCBs and dioxins in salmon. The levels of PCBs and dioxins in salmon are so low that you would have to eat an entire 12-pound salmon all by yourself in one sitting to even come close to any levels of concern.

Here in Canada the action limit is lower, but still, there is really nothing to worry about. Here’s a graph we put together, we’ve seen the original circulating around somewhere but couldn’t find it so we built our own. It helps put things in context.

PCBs in common foods
The PCB levels in common foods are so low they aren't worth worrying about. They are not likely to give anyone cancer, that's for sure.

So Harriet Sugar Miller, we certainly hope you will do some more research before you write any more about farmed salmon. It’s healthy, it’s nutritious and your readers deserve to see for themselves that there is no need for concern. Making informed choices about food is good, and hopefully you can pass this information on to your readers.

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3 thoughts on “Dear Harriet Sugar Miller: Please do more research”

  1. I’ve posted the following comment yesterday morning (EU time) on Harriet Sugar Miller’s blog, but it has ‘awaited moderation’ since… Maybe she will read it here…. PS: This was written as a reply/comment, not structured as a report/article… this can be done as well & more extensively… B Charron / SeafoodIntelligence.com

    Salmoskius on April 11, 2012 at 2:40 am said:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Hello Harriet, Very interesting topic but beware of simplifications; things are quite complex once you dive into this subject: for instance, around a third (proportion varies every year, depending on species & regions: 20% of all commercially-caught AK salmon in 2011; 49% in 2010, etc.) of all “wild-caught” Alaska salmon actually start their life in fish pens: it is ‘ranched’ and results from ‘enhanced’ fisheries. The entire AK salmon fishery will loose their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label after October 2012. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program also said it was (finally) going to look into the environmental impact of hatchery-raised Alaska salmon (see http://is.gd/AG9sty) in 2012. Some of the latter for instance was fed melamine-contaminated feed in 2007. The Alaska ‘wild’ salmon fisheries/sector would literally collapse if it weren’t for the aquaculture/hatchery boost. Hatchery fish cannot be called ‘wild’ when it comes to protection under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) as they aren’t “self-sustaining” (See Seattle Times story: http://is.gd/esrHn6). But under the current ‘wild’ Alaska salmon labeling (that’s marketing, not necessarily science-based facts…): there is no way to distinguish the wild and hatchery Alaska salmon (both are “wild-caught”, but not both are “truly wild”…). No distinction is made either by Seafood Watch & many others NGO advisories, though this may start changing soon… A distinction is however often made at harvest level, and certainly always made by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s fisheries biologists and fisheries managers setting the yearly quotas: ever wonder why? Also re. the 2004 article on PCBs in salmon; beware: there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding this. Some Alaska wild-salmon has also been found to contain more PCBs than some farmed Atlantic: PCB pollution were registered in Alaska etc… See also PSB/Frontline’s 2009 program on the PCBs legacy in the Puget Sound and its impact on salmon among others (http://is.gd/FrontlinePCBsSalmon). Much of the Baltic wild Atlantic salmon is deemed too contaminated to be consumed by humans (and traded by EU regulation), though there are allowanced for local consumption. When it comes to pesticides, in a 2002 order, a U.S. District Court in Seattle found that the federal government had failed to protect 26 endangered and threatened species of (wild) salmon and steelhead from 54 toxic pesticides. Washington and Oregon States threatened in 2004 a lawsuit against the US Department of Energy unless it evaluates the harm 40 years of plutonium production caused to natural resources at the Hanford nuclear reservation, in the Columbia River watershed – “including damage to the local wild salmonids populations”. See also the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2010 lawsuit in California re. pesticides threats to various species, incl. coho salmon. Etc, etc.. There are thousands of salmon farmers worldwide, each operating in different waters, feeding/raising their fish differently (re. vaccines, tackling sea lice, densities in pens, etc.). You will note that organic (only farmed) salmon is considered by some as much better than many a wild salmon. You will also note that MSC-certified seafood doesn’t at all consider the seafood safety aspect, only the sustainability of the fisheries (management). Even the ‘solution’ hailed as ‘the’ answer by many aquaculture critics: closed-contained aquaculture – seems to have its flaws (re. the damaged operations in BC in the March 2012 storm which may (that will be confirmed later) have led to some fish escaping in the wild: the one thing it was meant to prevent…). Basically, you can’t generalize (and beware the spin, there is a lot of politics & economic interests riding on so-called health advices). There is ‘good’, ‘less good’, and ‘bad’ salmon – ranched/enhanced/augmented, truly wild and farmed (including organic) everywhere; it depends on specific fisheries (and by that, one doesn’t mean ‘Alaska’: many fisheries there despite the MSC having a ‘blanket all-or-nothing’ approach). There is pros & cons for both ‘wild’ & ‘farmed’ salmon. A simple dichotomy that doesn’t reflect the variability & complexity of environments, trades and practices of many thousand fishers & farmers. And PS: there are no farmed Atlantic salmon coming from Greenland, but rather from the Faroes Islands.

  2. Thank you for your reply. 

    However the issue is not that feed and waters and regulations have changed since 2004. They really haven’t changed much. The issue is that the 2004 Science paper used an old draft EPA guideline about increasing the risk of getting cancer by one person in 100,000. Please note that is estimated risk. There are very few real world examples of people having their health affected from exposure to pcbs and we cannot find any examples of people getting cancer from pcbs in food.

    The alarming conclusions of the 2004 paper are not so alarming when the results are put in context, compared to other foods, and in line with more widely accepted pcb guidelines as we have done in the graph on our blog post. As we point out, even though pcb levels in farmed salmon are higher than in wild, the number is so low compared to Health Canada guidelines as to be of no concern.

    Our concern is that by dredging up this old since-debunked science paper without adequate and accurate context, you are scaring people away from a healthy and affordable source of protein.

  3. I just responded to you privately. The Gazette article clearly admitted that the 2004 study was outdated and that new feeds and new regs have resulted in much cleaner farmed salmon. I made that clear to the Gazette and am publishing a piece Friday that reiterates that point and goes into much more detail.

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