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Scottish farmed salmon the most contaminated in the world

Salmon Farm Monitor

8th January 2004

consumption advice is that no more than one meal every four months should be consumed in order to avoid an increased risk of cancer

A landmark international study – ‘Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon’ [1] - published 9th January 2004 in the world’s foremost scientific journal, Science, presents damning new evidence that Scottish farmed salmon is the most contaminated salmon on sale in Europe and North America. The Science study reveals that Scottish farmed salmon is so contaminated with PCBs, dioxins, dieldrin and toxaphene that no more than three meals of Scottish farmed salmon PER YEAR are recommended. Wild salmon on the other hand could be safely consumed at levels as high as eight meals per month or twice per week.

From the data presented in the Science study, farmed salmon from Scotland are estimated to be four times more contaminated than salmon farmed in Chile and up to 30 times more contaminated than some wild Alaskan salmon. Scotland has the worst “average contaminant rank” (Figure 2) for PCBs, dioxins, toxaphene and dieldrin when compared with farmed salmon from the Faroe Islands, Norway, East Canada, Maine and Chile.

According to the Institute for Health and the Environment: “The study concluded that concentrations of these cancer-causing substances in most farmed salmon tested that was available to European consumers are high enough to trigger consumption recommendations of just one farmed salmon meal (eight-ounce portion or approximately 227g) every month according to methods for calculating fish consumption advisories used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In the worst cases, characteristic of farmed salmon obtained from Scotland and the Faroe Islands and salmon fillets purchased in Frankfurt, the consumption advice is that no more than one meal every four months should be consumed in order to avoid an increased risk of cancer” [2].

Over 700 salmon samples (2 metric tons) were purchased from wholesalers and retailers in each of the world’s eight major farmed-salmon producing regions and from retailer in London, Edinburgh, Paris, Frankfurt, Oslo, New York, Washington DC, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, Denver, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver. “Farmed salmon fillets purchased from supermarkets in Frankfurt, Edinburgh, Paris, London and Oslo was generally the most contaminated” states Science. “Most of the salmon sold in European stores comes from European farms, which produce the more contaminated salmon”.

According to the Science study, farmed salmon had significantly higher levels of 14 contaminants including PCBs, DDT, dioxins, dieldrin, hexachlorobenzene, lindane and toxaphene than wild salmon: “Farmed salmon have significantly higher contaminant burdens than wild salmon and that farmed salmon from Europe are significantly more contaminated than farmed salmon from South and North America”.

Applying a cancer risk analysis developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the scientists from the University of Michigan, the University of Indiana, Cornell University and the State University of New York state that “consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption”.

“The most restrictive advice (less than one-half meal of salmon per month), which reflects the highest health risks, was generated for farmed salmon fillets purchased from stores in Frankfurt, Germany, and for farmed salmon from Scotland and the Faroe Islands”.

The Science study concludes that “consumption of farmed salmon may result in exposure to a variety of persistent bio-accumulative contaminants with the potential for an elevation in attendant health risks”.

Commenting on the Science study, MD of the Salmon Farm Protest Group, Don Staniford, said:

“The Science study clearly indicates that Scottish farmed salmon is the most contaminated farmed salmon on sale anywhere in the world. Scottish farmed salmon is now so contaminated that consumers who eat more than three meals of Scottish farmed salmon per year exceed the U.S. EPA’s consumption advice.

No wonder supermarkets are reluctant to advertise the fact that 99% of fresh salmon sold in the UK is farmed not wild, let alone label the alarming fact, according to Science, that Scottish farmed salmon contains significantly higher levels of PCBs, dioxins, dieldrin and toxaphene than wild salmon.

Given the cocktail of chemicals, artificial colourings and contaminants, Scottish farmed salmon should surely carry a Government health warning rather than being sold as a safe, healthy and nutritious foodstuff.

Supermarkets have a duty of care to their customers and should list what chemicals, contaminants and artificial colourings farmed salmon contains. The Salmon Farm Protest Group urge consumers to ‘count to ten and think again’ and list ‘Ten Reasons to Boycott Fresh Farmed Salmon’ [3].”

The Science study gives even greater urgency to the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Protection Directorate who are in the process of compiling an international inventory of dioxin and PCB contamination in food (not due to be published until late 2004).

It also raises questions over the corporate responsibility of the European salmon farming industry: for more than 25 years the industry has been aware of the problem of fish oil and fish meal contamination (a scientific study published in 1979 showed high levels of contaminants in fish feed).

The Science study reports that fish feed purchased in Scotland, for example, is much more contaminated than in Canada and Chile and “this may reflect higher contaminant concentrations in forage fish from the industrialized waters of Europe’s North Atlantic as compared to forage fish from the waters off North and South America”. This backs up research by the European Commission’s Scientific Committees on Food and Animal Nutrition published in 2000 which showed that fish of European origin were eight times more contaminated than fish in the Southern hemisphere [4].

For further information please contact Don Staniford on 07880 716082, or 00 34 952 49 49 16, or via email on

The Salmon Farm Monitor:

Hysbackie, Tongue, by Lairg, Sutherland 1V27 4XJ, Scotland
Tel: 01847 611274; Fax: 01847 611262; email
A company registered in Scotland, No.240223

Further information

[1] “Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon,” by R.A. Hites at Indiana U. in Bloomington, IN; J.A. Foran at U. of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI; D.O. Carpenter at U. at Albany in Rensselaer, NY; M.C. Hamilton at AXYS Analytical Services in Sidney, BC, Canada; B.A. Knuth and S.J. Schwager at Cornell U. in Ithaca, NY. To be published in the journal Science on 9th January 2004:

[2] “Study Reveals Health Risks of European Farm-Raised Salmon – Study in the journal Science suggests sharp restrictions in consumption” (Institute of Health and the Environment, University at Albany, State University of New York)

[3] “Ten Reasons to Boycott Fresh Farmed Salmon”:

[4] Opinion on Dioxins in Food - European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition, November 2000 - pdf 565KB
(Original download site =
If you experience difficulty please click link below to download above file from ECBC
European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition, November 2000 - pdf 565KB
Opinion on the Risk Assessment of Dioxins and Dioxin-like PCBs in Food (European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food, November 2000):
( Original download site =

Includes: “Fish meal and fish oil are the most heavily contaminated feed materials with products of European fish stocks more heavily contaminated than those from South Pacific stock by a factor of ca. eight”

More on PCBs and dioxin contamination can be found in “The Five Fundamental Flaws of Sea Cage Fish Farming” (Paper presented by Don Staniford in the European Parliament in October 2002), available through The Salmon Farm Monitor.