18th December

Myths and legends of aquaculture exploded!

Donal Maguire, BIM aquaculture development manager explains

It is important that Irish consumers are told the truth about the food they eat. All too often they are misled by glib phrases and sound bytes that make for exciting journalism but do not give the true facts.

Aquaculture products in general and farmed Atlantic salmon in particular, have been the subject of more than their fair share of sensationalism.

Busting the myth that farmed salmon is full of dye

 

Busting the myth that farmed salmon is full of dye

To set the records straight, over the coming issues Inshore Ireland will be running exclusive articles that separate fact from fiction so that the consumer can make healthy eating choices.

 

It is important that Irish consumers are told the truth about the food they eat. All too often they are misled by glib phrases and sound bytes that make for exciting journalism but do not give the true facts.

Aquaculture products in general and farmed Atlantic salmon in particular, have been the subject of more than their fair share of sensationalism.

To set the records straight, over the coming issues Inshore Ireland will be running exclusive articles that separate fact from fiction so that the consumer can make healthy eating choices.

Myth No 1: ‘Farmed salmon is full of dyes!’

The first thing to understand is that the pigments which are used to make the meat of quality assured Irish farmed salmon pink are identical to those which make wild salmon pink. So if farmed salmon are full of dyes, then so are wild salmon! Exactly the same dye!

Two pigments are commonly used to make salmon flesh pink:  Astaxanthin and canthaxanthin.  Both are naturally occurring carotenoids. In the wild it is these same pigments absorbed through the diet from crustaceans such as krill, which make salmon pink. 

The pigments used in salmon feed are manufactured to be identical to those produced in nature. It would not be sustainable practice to use the natural source of the pigment in the farmed salmon diet, which would be small crustaceans such as krill.

These crustaceans are a major food source for wild fish such as herring and hake as well as wild salmon. Synthesizing the pigment artificially not only ensures that the product is of consistently high quality, but also indirectly safeguards the food sources for these wild species as well. 

Farmed and wild salmon need these pigments because they are essential to their health and wellbeing. The pigments are needed for the reproduction, growth and survival of salmon ova and fry, and they provide antioxidant protection to the tissues and the membranes of the fish. The fact that they also give the flesh of the salmon the characteristic pink colour, which we have come to expect is a by- product, not an end in itself.

Pigment levels

All living organisms require carotenoids in one form or another for proper growth and development, and these are found almost everywhere in both plants and animals. The levels of pigment found in the flesh of both wild and farm raised salmon are essentially the same although some species of Pacific salmon actually have higher levels than their farmed cousins. These pigments are also powerful anti-oxidants, making a positive contribution to the health of humans when they eat salmon.

The levels of pigment in salmon feed are controlled by the EU and in Irish law under the Additives in Feeding stuffs (Amendment) 1998 S/I/98/205. Their use is very strictly controlled and the amount in the flesh is both safe and beneficial to the consumer.

Some years ago there was a controversy when the consumption of canthaxanthin at very high levels in tanning pills was associated with eye disease. It has been calculated however that an average person would have to eat more than ten kilos of wild or farmed salmon a day for several weeks to get the same load as from a tanning pill! 

So much for the farmed salmon are full of dye myth…! Yes, there is a pigment in the diet fed to farmed salmon, but the same pigment is in the diet that wild salmon feed on themselves.

The good news is that it’s good for them and good for you!

Further information about Irish seafood on the BIM website: www.bim.ie

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