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?