clip_166When you buy fish or eat it in restaurants, you should be told whether it is caught from wild waters or farm raised. We are told that fish have beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids that improve the health of the heart and promote mental health. But is your fish healthier than mutton or chicken? Not if you are buying farm raised fish.

Industrial fish farming, or aquaculture, is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. 50% of the world’s seafood now comes from fish farms. By 2011, global farmed fish production topped beef production, and the gap increased in 2012 when 66 million tons of farmed fish were produced, compared to 63 million tons of beef. The farmed seafood industry continues to ramp up to the tune of $60 billion in revenue a year. Has taking factory farming to the water had any ill effects – to your health and to the planet?

At first glance, farmed fish may seem like a good idea to help protect wild seafood populations from overfishing. The government’s agriculture ministry is going all out to promote fish farming. Not one bureaucrat has pointed out the dangers of this – probably because our bureaucrats don’t know much and their egos prevent them from learning. In reality, however, the industry is plagued with the problems of pollution, disease and inferior nutritional quality. Farm raised fish grow up eating corn, soy feed, animal and human faeces. This is nothing like their natural diet. As a result they have 50% less Omega 3, protein, calcium and iron. These fish have a high risk of disease and parasitic infestation and are loaded with antibiotics. Does eating them protect our wild fish? On the contrary, many farmed fish are being fed a small fish diet.

These tiny prey fish, like anchovies and herring, are not being farmed anywhere. They are caught in the millions by trawler nets, pulped and fed to farmed fish. As a result, both species are in danger of extinction. Since they are almost gone, so are species that depend on them. Scientists blame aquaculture for the decline in whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, penguins, albatross and many other species. They state “Rather than relieving pressure on wild fish, growing these large carnivores [salmon and tuna on fish farms] requires a steady supply of prey that are caught and ground into oil and meal.

As the industry grows, it is straining the existing supply of prey fish, putting additional pressure on populations that cannot supply the demand.” The Jevons Paradox says that “as production methods grow more efficient, demand for resources actually increases – rather than decreasing, as you might expect,” This is precisely what has happened with aquaculture. As fish farming became more efficient, demand for wild fish has increased significantly. This has, in turn, put increased demand on the oceans.

Fish are farmed by stuffing them so thickly in artificial ponds that they cannot swim and are cheek by jowl with each other– like chickens in battery cages. The close quarters where farmed fish are raised, combined with their unnatural diets, means disease spreads quickly. Because most farmed fish are often raised in pens in the ocean, pathogens spread and contaminate wild fish swimming past. Sea lice, a type of crustacean found parasitizing captive fish, have become a significant problem and have been blamed for the declining numbers of wild fish, as well as the species that eat them – animals and birds.

Other types of lethal viruses which spread from fish farms are also now being detected in wild populations, including leukaemia viruses and influenza. Concentrated antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals are commonly used to fight farm fish diseases and parasites. These wash into the water and are found miles away. Farmed fish often escape into the wild seas. The escaped fish breed with wild fish, and research shows that these hybrid-born fish are less viable and die earlier, contaminating the entire gene pool and harming the future of the wild population. For instance, new research from the University of Melbourne has shown that half of the world’s most popular fish – farmed salmon – have a hearing loss because of a deformity of theearbone.

Fish have ears and they use them for hearing and balance, just like we do. This deformity has broader implications. Each year, billions of captive-bred juvenile salmon are released into rivers in North America, Asia and Europe to increase wild populations. Their survival is 20 times lower than that of wild salmon. Loss of hearing plays a major role. And when they breed with wild populations, this could decimate them as well. Scientists have raised serious concerns about high levels of contaminants, like lead and cadmium in farm-raised fish, which enter your body where they bind to your cells. In 2006 Russia banned Norwegian farmed salmon (top producer in the world) for this reason. Instead of reducing the toxic ingredients, Norway has lobbied the EU to raise the permissible level of toxins in salmon feed, which has now been granted!!

The new, official recommendation to Norwegian women of childbearing age, or who are pregnant, is to limit their consumption! The most common farm-raised fish are: salmon, tilapia, catfish, “sea” bass and cod. (Don’t be fooled by menu descriptions. “North Atlantic Salmon” and “Chilean Sea Bass” are farmed breeds and not the oceans where they are caught.) Because farm-raised fish are kept in cages, they have the tendency to be fatter with a higher concentration of omega-6 acids. The problem with getting too many omega-6 acids is that they cause inflammation. Studies show that farm raised Tilapia worsens inflammation in the human body and can lead to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other serious health problems.

Scientists have found that the inflammatory potential of tilapia is far greater than that of pork/bacon. According to USDA data, farm raised salmon has 52% more fat than those caught wild. Toxins are stored in fat and the fat in farm raised salmon is found to be contaminated with over 100 pollutants and pesticides. According to the Environmental Working Group in 2004 Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a set of carcinogenic manmade chemicals, are 11 times higher in farm-bred salmon compared to wild salmon. “The first-ever tests of farmed salmon from U.S. grocery stores show that farmed salmon are probably the most PCB contaminated protein source in the food supply.”

In three independent studies, scientists tested 37 fish meal samples from six countries and found PCB contamination in nearly every sample (Jacobs 2002, Easton 2002, and CFIA 1999). PCBs were banned in the U.S. in the late 1970s and are among the “dirty dozen” chemical contaminants slated for global phase-out under the UN treaty on persistent organic pollutants. PCBs have been linked to cancer and impaired foetal brain development.Once these toxic chemicals enter your system, it takes 7 to 11 years to flush out. Other species of farmed fish have been found contaminated with methylmercury. The source of the fish you eat may not be something you’ve ever thought about. But you should.

For instance, farm-raised salmon meat is grey and has to be dyed to look like normal salmon does. SalmoFan is a colour chart fish farmers use to pick various shades of salmon-coloured fish dyes. Anyone concerned about their own health, and the world around them, should try to find out where their fish came from and avoid farmed fish completely. And perhaps educate the government on their new fish farm policy.

By Maneka Gandhi