PCBs in Europe: not a big deal there, either

We got into an interesting conversation over at Protesting the Protesters earlier this month, with someone claiming to be an expert in contaminants in farmed fish. She tried to convince us that PCBs in farmed salmon were at levels too high to be safe to eat, but when she finally (reluctantly) provided some information to support her claims, the study she provided contradicted her earlier statements.

It was a surreal conversation.

Nevertheless, we thank her for providing a link to a very interesting study published by the European Food Safety Authority in 2010, which looked at the levels of PCBs in common foods in Europe. A total of 11,214 food samples collected in the period 1995-2008, from 18 EU Member States as well as from Iceland and Norway, were analyzed for the final report. It’s very thorough.

But very thorough doesn’t always mean accurate.

Thorough is not the same as accurate.
Thorough is not the same as accurate.

So what does this report actually say?

There are pages and pages of data in the report, but for our purposes we were most interested in pages 19-21. Basically, out of all foods tested, eel meat had by far the highest concentrations of PCBs (223 micrograms per kg), followed by fish livers (148 micrograms per kg) and then fish muscle (23 micrograms per kg).

The table does not distinguish between farmed and wild fish. It lumps them all in the same category.

The measurement is in parts per billion and 23 parts per billion in fish meat is extremely low. It is far, far below the safe limits set by the FDA for baby food.

And in fact, baby food is in this study, too. Baby food containing fish meat had 10.9 parts per billion PCBs.

These numbers are so low they are not worth worrying about, and do not trigger any consumption limit warnings.

So in Europe and North America, eat and enjoy as much farmed seafood as you want. It’s safe, and it’s healthy.

For more information about dioxins and PCBs in farmed salmon (as well as a lot of other things), please read our previous post which looked at this issue in depth.


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