Bluewashing, Seafood Health, and Romantic Lobsters

Bluewashing. It's everywhere. In his article Beware of 'bluewash': Which fish should you buy? Nic Fleming covered our research on confusing seafood eco-labels in this week's NewScientist.

In addition to the dangers of seeming eco-friendly, consumers are also up against an industry very set on convincing consumers seafood is healthy. Earlier this week, Dr. Melina Jampolis, the CNN diet and fitness expert, got the question: Is farm-raised salmon as healthy as wild? She consulted a senior vice president for research of the Environmental Working Group, who said:

Eating farmed salmon occasionally is not a great health concern, but risks can add up if you eat salmon often. But the long-term environmental damage caused by the industry is substantial. We recommend wild salmon over farmed whenever possible.

Big mistake. Jampolis is right for all sorts of reasons but the farmed salmon industry was outraged. Industry-sponsored Intrafish published many articles about it this week with titles like "CNN 'expert' bashes farmed salmon" and "Strong reactions to CNN farmed salmon article". They were loud. And they got heard.

Yesterday, Jampolis revisted her answer and then

citing the more recent research, agreed that the benefits of eating any salmon outweigh the risks, especially with heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States and the fact that salmon is one of the best sources of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Near the top of the article, CNN quotes the National Fisheries Institute, which, despite its fancy title, is just an lobbying arm of the seafood industry, who makes a profit off of selling farmed salmon, "It's really high time that people have a new perspective on farmed salmon from a nutrition standpoint," said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute Inc., the largest seafood trade organization in the United States.

Of course Gibbons would say that. Just as manufacturers of DDT would say it's not that bad for birds. Is that a 'balanced' perspective? I thought we were talking about health, not sales.

The article goes on to quote Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Rimm co-authored a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that said the PCB levels in farmed salmon were not a cause of concern compared with the benefits.

"It's clear that if there is any risk, the benefit is still in the range of 300 to 1,000 times greater from the fact that you're getting the omega-3s," he said.

My goodness. Are we still harping on about omega-3s? Seafood is just one of many good sources of omega-3. Flax seeds, for instance, have six times more omega-3 than your average fish. Kelp, walnuts, and acai palm fruit also have high levels. So do meat, cheese, and eggs from animals fed primarily grass (problem is, most animals are now fed corn instead of grass).

Also, several medical studies came out since Rimm's study (which was a meta-analysis of existing literature and was done in 2006) affirming that, at best, fish oils are just one factor of many that may reduce health ailments, such as heart disease. Plus, farmed salmon are just ONE source of fish oil and they are probably in no way superior to other types of fish, like sardines or anchovies.

Then, several studies have called into question whether these health recommendations are accurate and/or at odds with sustainability. See this 2008 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology on Fish, human health and marine ecosystem health: policies in collision or this 2009 study the Canadian Medical Association Journal asking Are dietary recommendations for the use of fish oils sustainable?

Why didn't CNN look into this angle? Did they examine who funds and promotes studies on salmon health? Did they examine the environmental effects? No. CNN ran a crappy article on health effects, which made industry mad, so it ran another even crappier article with almost no investigative or thorough journalism. It shows how persuasive industry is and how little CNN stands by its reporters or its quest for truth.

I'm only surprised CNN didn't add in this study advertised on Red Lobster's website "reaffirming" that lobster is romantic.

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Thanks for the laugh. The article you linked to is about beef with slightly 'better' fat. That's not my idea of a "healthy alternative to seafood". Besides that, Jennifer's post was specifically about sustainability + health, not just health.

By Harman Smith (not verified) on 17 Jan 2010 #permalink

Terrestrial derived Omegs-3 fatty acids are NOT NOT NOT the same are marine derived Omera-3 faaty acids (DHA and EPA especially). The have very differen molecular structures and functions - DHA is essential to brain, eyes, etc....

A good thing is that lower trophic level fish (that are more sustainable) such as anchovy and sardine are the ones that have the highest amounts of these fish oils. Unfortunately, they're being fed to farmed salmon in crowded open pen operations that pollute surrounding water - This is the issue.

I don't see why you would claim flax seed oil is the same as fish oil - its not but that not the issue either.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a whole class of molecules. You shouldn't group them all together. When were talking about fish oil, were talking about DHA and EPA. When were talking about flax seed oil its mainly ALA.

And despite your listing off several journal articles, there is overwhelming evidence of the health benefits of fish oil in the medical literature.

You're being waaaaaay more one-sided in your presentation of the facts then CNN. Just because there is a couple journal articles in your favor does not negate the HUUUUGE body of journal articles that say the contrary.

You also did not disclose the lead author on of those paper is funded by guess who???? None other than:

Canola and Flax Councils of Canada

the irony just gets deeper