There is probably no other farmed fish species that divides opinions as much as salmon. Can a new label guarantee for “sustainability” and convince sceptics about the need for farmed salmon?
I could make this post simple and refer my readers to the article published a month ago by Ted Danson and Andrew Sharpless. However, that would not only be cheap but I believe that the topic requires some more consideration. Besides, we should also provide some room for the “other part of the opinions”, reflected for example in a critical reply to above mentioned article or all those who enjoy some smoked salmon and champagne for breakfast, what probably makes them feel being more important than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together.
Considering that there has been enough propaganda about the bad farming practises for salmon in many countries as much as about the fact that the industry is largely dominated by one not very charming mogul, I don’t need to go into details as regards those subjects. What’s more, it is as an article published by The Washington Post correctly says; most farms have improved their practices over the last 10 years or so.
Yet, there is an issue that gives enough to talk over and over again: feed and feed conversion ratio. The most important message here is that whatever you read is probably an underestimation or intentionally misleading figure. When farmers claim (as described in above article) that their FCR was one to one or two to one, then this is only partly true, because first, you don’t eat the whole salmon (means from an entire salmon we only eat about 50-60%) and second, the feed they talk about is dried fish and not fresh product. Hence to compare properly you either have to compare fresh fish equivalence being fed or dry your salmon before comparing. You will find that it needs at least five kilogram of other fish for “producing” one kilogram of salmon!
Having that in mind we can move over to the ethical aspects of salmon farming. Whereas farming animals for food production is as such a very unethical and questionable practise, it gets totally pervert in discussed case if you consider that these animals basically only serve to convert other fish such as anchovies, sardines and mackerels into another form of fish. Do we really need that? How do you justify growing animals crowded together in a cage where they can hardly move and only exist to eat, shit and then being killed to be eaten?
How would you feel if we kept teachers in a cage, fed them and let them educate our children but without giving them any other freedom? They might be more efficient, because they could only focus on teaching. The same could be done with IT technicians or any other worker. Imagine how efficient that would be!
Growing fish only to transfer fish into another form of fish is the superlative of what Marx called “alienation” (origin: Entfremdung). It’s a complete perversion and abuse of nature.
Now, I’m sure that some might want to justify exactly that by referring to some nutritional facts. For example Omega-3, which has become so popular that one is tempted to add it even to potato crisps or the cigarettes people are no longer allowed to smoke, only to make them healthy too. My position is this: whoever has been a vegetarian for many years will know that it’s easily possible to survive without all those “healthy” and/or “essential” animal fats and acids. Besides, humanity has lived for thousands of years without even knowing about the existence of Omega-3, not to mention that many societies have probably never eaten one single filet of fish. And for all those that insist: how about bioaccumulation of toxins?
The message to take away, though, is: a) it’s likely more healthy and definitely more sustainable to eat “the salmon feed” anchovies, sardines and mackerels directly, and b) there are many alternatives of fish and other marine species that make sense to farm, for example Tilapia and Pangasius, which can be raised on an almost vegetarian diet, or filter feeders such as clams.
Considering all that, it’s very questionable to hear Rachel Mutter claim that “eating farmed salmon is pretty much imperative”. That is totally nonsense. If anything, then avoiding farmed salmon should be imperative! It’s obvious that if we ate the five kilograms of anchovies and mackerels instead of the one kilogram of salmon, then we could definitely feed more people.
Of course, some people might still prefer to nibble on their salmon while feeling like a king/queen rather than sharing some mackerel with those that are starving because of no longer having latter. So be it, it’s their right to do that. However, the assumption that farmed (and fed with other fish) salmon was or would ever be sustainable is wrong and can definitely be rejected.
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 The ratio of feed used to produce one entity of final product, also called FCR. A FCR of 5 (or 5:1) means you need 5kg feed to produce 1kg of salmon.
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 I must add that there is of course the option to feed salmon with substitutes instead of the fish. However, knowing that it will likely be some “genetically engineered” substance or feed from other questionable sources, we might definitely conclude that farmed salmon is not a reasonable food source.