Filed Under: Seafood

Farmed Fish Fears Fall Flat

The New York Times reports that Wild Oats Markets, an all-organic food retailer, will from now on import its farmed salmon from Ireland. The Irish fish, Wild Oats claims, have lower levels of chemicals called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) than North American sources. By sheer coincidence, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has long pushed organic-only food in concert with groceries like Wild Oats, released a report yesterday on PCB levels in domestic farmed salmon.

EWG bought a total of ten fish and determined that their average PCB concentration was 27 parts per billionabout 1/100th of the FDA’s limit. And that’s it. That’s the news item that has prompted at least 47 fear-inducing stories in major media outlets — including headlines like “Farm-raised salmon called cancer danger,” “High level of contamination in farmed salmon, researchers say,” and “Farmed Salmon May Cause Cancer.”

More sober voices place these unfounded fears in their proper perspective. “If the public listened to this, our health would be negatively affected,” argues Charles Santerre, a Purdue University professor of food and nutrition. “Any small additional risk of cancer is far outweighed by the benefits of fatty acids in the fish.”

Meanwhile, the FDA is having none of EWG’s antics. “It is important to know that at this point the FDA advice is that the consumer should not alter their consumption of salmon,” said Terry Troxell, an FDA official. “Fish is an excellent source of protein.”

EWG, often dubbed the “Environmental Worrying Group,” is an organization of scaremongers, not scientists. One would think The New York Times would understand that. Referring to a similarly flawed 1993 EWG report on children’s intake of pesticides, the Times noted: “The F.D.A. has criticized the Environmental Working Group’s report for its methodology and conclusions.”

For more on the Environmental Working Group, please visit Here are a few tidbits from our profile:

While flacking a 1999 report called How ‘Bout Them Apples? (a predictable diatribe warning that a million American kids were in grave danger from chemical residues on apples), EWG’s Todd Hettenbach told United Press International that “just a bite or two of an apple, peach or pear, which had legal residues of [the insecticide] methyl parathion, could cause dizziness, nausea and blurred vision” in a child. One federal EPA consultant told Fox News that Hettenbach’s claims were “totally off the wall.”

In its 1997 report entitled Tough to Swallow: How Pesticide Companies Profit from Poisoning America’s Tap Water, EWG carped about levels of a herbicide called atrazine in Midwestern water supplies. The federally imposed safety limit for that chemical is 3.0 parts per billion, but EWG claimed (falsely) that a level 20-fold smaller violated federal safety requirements. When the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency learned that EWG had essentially fabricated its own safety standards, one official remarked: “We’re concerned when reports like this come out because they’re making comparisons based on levels that don’t exist.”

Richard Wiles, the executive who cooked up EWG’s 1996 “Shopper’s Guide,” insisted that his intention wasn’t to steer consumers away from fresh produce in general, but he readily admitted an organic agenda. “Our basic recommendation is to buy organic produce whenever you can get it,” he told The Chicago Tribune. But what sort of “experts” are really behind this recommendation? When investigative reporter Matt Labash asked Wiles this very question, he got a surprising answer. “Richard Wiles, the group’s vice president of research,” Labash wrote in The Weekly Standard, “conceded to me that the Environmental Working Group does not have a single doctor or scientist on staff.”

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