We associate the colour of salmon with... well... the colour salmon. Even crayons use the name 'salmon' for the colour that is neither fully orange nor fully pink, but rather... well... salmon. Wild salmon get their colour naturally from the food they eat. Farmed salmon also get it from their food, except that there is nothing natural about it. Synthetic astaxanthin, the name of the dye, is derived from petrochemicals and is not generally considered safe as a food supplement for people. So, should we be ok with it in our food's food? 

Without astaxanthin added to the feed, farmed salmon flesh would be pale grey. Is it worth it? 

Click here to go to the Artificial Colour page... 


Listeria (Food Poisoning)

In 2019, two people died and another was hospitalised with food poisoning after eating smoked salmon from Tassal. There remains some unresolved or secret murkiness surrounding the transparency and financial dealings relating to these deaths and contamination. Well, that is to say, there isn't transparency; instead, there's a lot of unanswered questions. Criminal negligence? Manslaughter? Insider trading? Cover-up? ... no idea, but the crumbs certainly look intriguing... 

Click here to go to the Listeria page... 



Astaxanthin: Artificial Colour

Image Toxic Barrels by John Messina EPA PD

Industrial chemicals come with all sorts of weird and scary effects. Cancer. Damage to the immune system. Interference with hormones. Reproductive and developmental abnormalities. Nervous system impacts. The list goes on. 

Two in particular have been associated with salmon: Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Dioxins. Both bioaccumulate, that is, they build up in the body to some toxic threshold that we cannot perceive until it's too late. In fact, research on mice has shown that chronic consumption of farmed salmon with persistent organic pollutants causes insulin resistance and diabetes. 

It appears that salmon are getting their PCBs and dioxins from the fish oil and fish meal from the commercial feed in their diet. Moreover, salmon bioaccumulate these pollutants in their fat (as do we). Health advice from Harvard is to avoid the skin of the salmon and the fat directly beneath it, as this is where the contaminants are most concentrated. 

Click here to go to the Industrial Chemicals page... 

Flaw 1: A Toxic Food

Question: Is Salmon Safe to Eat?

The answer to the above question should be an unqualified yes. But alas, it depends on whether you are willing to overlook pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals, and other substances that have been reported in the fish, and whether you don't mind risking Listeria (food poisoning bacteria) in your smoked salmon. When we are confronted with the facts of highly toxic substances in low concentration, are we right to be cautious?

Our food chain begins with animal feed. Feed safety is therefore of great interest publicly and legislatively. Like the old adage, "You are what you eat", we literally take into our own body the ingredients that our food consumes. Discerning consumers take great care at the supermarket to avoid blemished and bruised produce, insisting on strictly the freshest of products, and yet we have very little understanding of the contaminants intentionally or inadvertantly fed to our food. 

Questions relating to safety of contaminants often have less than satisfactory answers. It is important to remember a saying in science, "Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence". This can be best summarised in the words of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in their overview of PCBs, "Studies that do not demonstrate an association between exposure to PCBs and disease should not be characterized as negative studies. These studies are most appropriately viewed as inconclusive. Limited studies that produce inconclusive findings for cancer in humans do not mean that PCBs are safe." From a safety point of view, most contaminants are best viewed as potentially unsafe until proven safe. 

Importantly, our perception of safety involves personal expectations as much as regulatory standards: a safe limit that fluctuates with scientific understanding may mean a food is considered 'safe' one day and 'unsafe' the next, and socially acceptable or objectionable regardless. Without transparency, we can only default to our own blunt instrument of instinct: do we consider contaminants safe until proven unhealthy, or unhealthy until proven safe? 

What are we really eating when we eat farmed salmon? In this section, we examine numerous toxic substances that have been reported in salmon. If a company or industry makes claims that we can't confirm and alleges testing that we can't verify, can we as consumers trust that their product meets with our expectations?  

Mercury & Other Heavy metals

The Renaissance physician Paracelsus is famously credited with the concept that "the dose determines the poison". One wonders whether he would have felt the same way had he known about bioaccumulation. Bioaccumulation is an inconvenient aspect of some heavy metals, where they concentrate in the body, sometimes to highly toxic levels. 

While "safe limits" have been published for different substances, it's a bit misleading for those that bioaccumulate, like mercury. If a toxic substance concentrates, then there really is no "safe" limit. 

Four heavy metals, in particular, are worth thinking about in discussions about food safety and salmon: Mercury, Arsenic, Zinc, and Copper. 

Click here to go to the Heavy Metals page... 


We generally think of pesticides as entering our body through the fruits and vegetables we eat, for example, incomplete washing of an apple. So we may wonder how we could possibly be exposed to pesticides through salmon. It's simple: many pesticides stay in body tissues, so if it's in the salmon, it's in us. Pesticides can enter the salmon via numerous different pathways, from residues and direct additions in the feed to traces in the water. Ethoxyquin, Glyphosate, and a host of other pesticides -- God Only Knows! 

The problem with pesticides is that they are highly toxic to our bodies, from cancer to parkinson's to birth defects, and more. And they can mix and match and interact in synergistic ways in our food, in our water, and in us. 

Click here to go to the Pesticides page... 

The Tasmanian salmon farming industry, and particularly Tassal, has a damning history of antibiotic exploitation. More than 4 tonnes in 2008-2009, quadrupling its use in 2017, increasing its use 260-fold in 2020 ... this shouldn't be legal. The World Health Organization (WHO) has flagged antibiotic over-use as one of the biggest threats to global health. Whether it's in humans or chickens or cattle or salmon, the microbes don't care. They're mutating toward drug-resistance, and our world is going to be a really different place where knee replacements, chemotherapy, and gonorrhoea lead to lethal infections without effective antibiotics. 


Besides contributing to antimicrobial resistance, there's another problem with using antibiotics: residues in our food and in the rivers and ocean. The companies claim that after antibiotic treatment for illnesses, the fish are not harvested until time has passed for them to be free of the antibiotics. But that doesn't ring true to us.


Click here to go to the Antibiotics page... 


Industrial Chemicals: PCBs and Dioxins