Sunday, April 19, 2009

Drinking Chilean Woman-water

And now, for a new low in marketing, Chile’s Cachantun (owned by Nestle) is marketing mineral water just for women. Called “Mas Woman” (More Woman), the maker says, in my translation from the Spanish:

Putting itself in tune with the requirements of the active modern life, the Chilean business Cachatun has launched More Woman, a multi-function flavored mineral water for the multi-role woman. This water was developed to pay tribute to women and in recognition of their tastes and needs as it is free of calories, very low in sodium and softly carbonated.

Although other brands offer these qualities, More Woman stands out in having in addition special essential ingredients for the care of your skin and your body:
* Calcium to strengthen your bones
*Vitamin E, an antioxidant that prevents the premature angling of the skin and bodily fatigue.
*Fiber, which contributes to improved intestinal transit
*Aloe Vera, which helps in the natural regeneration of the skin while stimulating the growth of firmer and healthier hair.
Femininity is expressed not only in its contents, but also in its container, and exclusive lilac colored bottle and attractive design that will be available in 500 cc and 1.5 liter formats and in two flavors: Fruits of the Forest and Ginger-Lemon. 1

I suppose that if you wish to pay more for water than for gasoline (about $1 a ½ liter here in Chile, roughly double the cost of gasoline) it really doesn’t matter if you buy Woman-Water, Man-Water or Goat-Water, since what you are actually buying is a plastic bottle and a marketing campaign (water, after all is almost free).  But since they are planning to make a bundle by marketing flavored water for a 95% or so profit, it is interesting to look at their marketing strategy. 
1. It’s in English. We’re not selling Mas Mujer, but Mas Woman.  Not so taxing on the vocabulary as to put people off, but clearly in English. In Chile, English is cool; English is status; English is upper class.  Until 2004 only students in private schools got to study English.2  Professionals read in English for their university studies. TV anchors and commentators drop the occasional English word in their reporting. My wife has me call for restaurant reservations since she thinks my gringo accent will get a better table. Shops in my neighborhood have English names:   Dr. Pet, Pet City: Pet Food & Supplies, Pet Shop Doll, Pet Shop, Kinder garden, Love Garden, Full Contact Kick Boxing, Dry Cleaning, Big Market, Small Market, World Gym, Rent-a-car, On the Run; Select Food and City Services, Sushi Bar and Delivery, More Image, etc.  English sells. 

2. It’s full of buzz words: “active modern life,” “multi functional,” “multi-role woman,” "natural." Trite, but evidently still effective.
3. It “pays tribute to women.”  Does it?  My reaction was rather different.
4. It makes questionable health claims.  Vitamin E, calcium and fiber are all necessary dietary components, but data on quantities included in Mas Woman are not available, nor is supplementation of water necessarily a useful way to improve nutrition. Besides, Vitamin E recommendations for women and men are the same (15 mg/day--though lactating mothers need slightly more, 19 mg/day) and Vitamin E deficiency is very rare. 3
As for Aloe Vera, its health claims are unsubstantiated and, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, (US) National Institutes of Health:

Aloe latex contains strong laxative compounds. Products made with various components of aloe (aloin, aloe-emodin, and barbaloin) were at one time regulated by the FDA as oral over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives. In 2002, the FDA required that all OTC aloe laxative products be removed from the U.S. market or reformulated because the companies that manufactured them did not provide the necessary safety data.

Early studies show that topical aloe gel may help heal burns and abrasions. One study, however, showed that aloe gel inhibits healing of deep surgical wounds. Aloe gel does not prevent burns from radiation therapy.

There is not enough scientific evidence to support aloe vera for any of its other uses. 4

Finally, the whole bottled water business is wasteful, polluting and contributes to global warming.

According to a 2001 report of the World Wide Fund for Nature, roughly 1.5 million tons of plastic are expended in the bottling of 89 billion liters of water each year.

Besides the sheer number of plastic bottles produced each year, the energy required to manufacture and transport these bottles to market severely drains limited fossil fuels. Bottled water companies, due to their unregulated use of valuable resources and their production of billions of plastic bottles have presented a significant strain on the environment.5
The tap water in Chile, in contrast to much of Latin America, is safe.  And while it is often convenient to buy a bottle of water when thirsty and out of the house, I try to avoid it.  Why contribute unnecessarily to pollution, global warming and the profits of multinationals?  And if you feel that you or your children would be healthier drinking bottled water, buying the least expensive local brand in big bottles and recycling them will be good for your wallet and the environment.
1. Mas Woman, un plus para la mujer moderna. March 26, 2009 on line at

2. Larry Rohter. Learn English, Says Chile. Thinking Upwardly Global. Letter From The Americas,.New York Times, December 29, 2004, on line at
3. Vitamin E, Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. on line at
4. Aloe Vera. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health on line at
5. The Effects of Bottled Water on the Environment on line at

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eating/Not-eating Chilean Salmon 3

Is salmon good for Chile’s economy and society?

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and thinking about farmed salmon during the last three weeks. I first asked “Is it good for you?” and discovered that the answer is “maybe”: It’s really excellent nutritionally, but it is contaminated with organochlorides (PCBs, dioxin, etc.) and folks (especially women of child bearing age and children) should limit their consumption.

Then I asked “Is it good for Chile’s environment?” And the answer was “No!” It pollutes lakes and the sea, uses excessive quantities of antibiotics, introduces potentially dangerous fungicides and pesticides into the environment, threatens native fish species with its escaped salmon, and kills seals.

Today I hope to finish by examining farmed salmon’s impacts on Chile’s economy and society, and answering my original question: Should we take full advantage of this great and inexpensive fish, eating it frequently; or should we avoid it for our health, and our environment and society’s health?

Salmon in Chile’s economy

Chile has an export based economy. In 2007 exports are estimated at $66.4 billion US dollars, up from $59 billion in 2006 and $40.5 billion in 2005. In 2007 exports accounted for about 42% of GDP. Historically, copper has been Chile’s most important export, but salmon is a close second, at about $2.5 billion per year, 4% of total exports, and has been increasing.

Employment in the salmon industry is about 53,000, most of whom work in rural areas in the 10th region, where other work opportunities are limited mainly to tourism, timber, fishing and agriculture.

In a power-point entitled “The Salmon Economy and the Necessity for a New Deal" (linked to the Industry site “SalmonChile”) Princeton trained Economist Jorge Quiroz C. argues that with the salmon industry regions X and XI have had better rates of economic growth than the rest of Chile and have experienced in-migration. Salmon communities have lower rates of poverty and indigence and higher incomes for the self employed than nearby non-salmon communities. His table below compares poverty and indigence levels and self-employed incomes in salmon and non salmon communities. 2

Salmon farming is an important enterprise in Chile. It is the second most important source of foreign exchange, it employs large numbers of people in areas with few alternatives for employment, and has reduced levels of poverty and indigence and raised incomes in salmon communities.

So, to our questions, “Is salmon good for Chile’s economy?” the answer is clearly yes.

Is salmon good for Chile’s Society?

The salmon industry is drawn to Chile because of low wages and abundant (and free) clean waters. But are wages reprehensibly low?

In 2007 a delegation from the Norwegian National Workers Confederation came to Chile to investigate press reports about poor working conditions within Norwegian-owned companies, Marine Harvest and Mainstream. They found that while the Norwegian companies have higher wages than most other salmon producers, wages are still low:

…overall, Chilean salmon industry workers earn a gross average of 230,000 pesos (US$489) per month, which according to the Labor Ministry puts them close to the poverty line. After taxes the average monthly salary is just 188,000 pesos (US$400). Companies, including Marine Harvest and Mainstream, tend to pay a base salary that is actually less than the current minimum wage of 144,000 pesos (US$306) per month. Employers pay the remainder of workers’ salaries with a production-based bonus system.1

Unfortunately, low wages and questionable working conditions are common in such industries world wide: US chicken plant workers make around $7.50 an hour, about 2.5 times as much as their Chilean counterparts.  But US per capita income is roughly 3.6 times higher than Chile’s ($45,850 vs. $12,590 in 2007), so Chilean salmon workers seem to receive a larger share of their nation’s income than US chicken workers.

Salmon plant workers, Marine Harvest photo.
Critics also cite problems in working conditions in the Industry, such as “lack of adherence to regulations including weak hygiene and security standards and poor safety conditions for working at sea, with an important number of fatal accidents among divers (eight since 2005)".4

And economist Quiroz, cited above, notes that salmon communities experience tensions related to culture change, population growth, and environmental problems, and compared to the rest of their regions they have lower levels of medical care, potable water and electrification. Other salmon industry social issues include labor conflict over wages and working conditions.

What do residents of Chile’s salmon communities think?

SalmonChile, the Salmon industry’s public relations web organ, sponsored a public opinion survey by Universidad de Los Lagos in the salmon communities, and published a power-point presentation of the results. While the presentation did not specifically address whether those sampled thought the industry was good for the region, 75% agreed that the salmon industry had generated benefits for their community and only 7% disagreed. Data on the opposite question (“Has the salmon industry generated problems for the community?”) was not provided.
In response to other questions 33% of respondants thought that the salmon companies were concerned about their communities, down 6% from 2005, and 35% thought they were not; 43% agreed that the industry followed labor regulations (35% among industry workers) and 20% did not; and 49% gave the industry positive grades of 5 to 7 (good-very good) for the role it plays in the environment, 14% gave it a 4 (passing), and 21% gave grades of 1 to 3 (not passing). 5

Given the mixed attitudes evident in the industry’s presentation of this report, one suspects that the full report might be less positive, but overall, it suggests that more people think the industry is good for the area than think that it is not.

Against the Current poster “This business smells bad”
Those who disagree include the Association of Aysen Artisan Fisher Organizations, who have urged a boycott of Chilean farmed salmon  and other organizations such as the Association of Magallanes Tourism Companies (AUSTROCHILE) and environmental organizations Oxfam and Terram, have called for a moratorium on expansion of the industry southward. 6

So, as I asked in the beginning “Should we take full advantage of this great and inexpensive fish, eating it frequently; or should we avoid it for our health, and our environment and society’s health?”

Is Chilean farmed salmon good for you?  Yes, the positives (omega 3s) seem to outweigh the negatives (contamination). .
Is it good for Chile’s environment? No
Is it good for Chile’s economy? Yes
Is it good for Chile’s society? Most people in salmon communities seem to think so, thought there are clearly problems.
Here are my conclusions:

1.  I like salmon. Other things being equal, I’d like to eat salmon once or twice a month, and as a 60+ year old man it would be good for me. The toxins are in a relatively safe range, and the Omega-3 acids are a plus for us potential heart attack candidates. (Note 2011: Current research suggests that "...for farmed salmon, the cardiovascular benefits are greater than the cancer risks by a factor of at least 300:1")

2.  I don’t like what it does to the Chilean environment and I generally support the Seafood Watch campaign, which suggests avoiding all farmed salmon, so other things again being equal, I’d probably avoid it. (Note 2013: Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood watch now lists farmed Chilean salmon produced by Verlasso as a "good alternative.")  

3.  But other things are not equal. I live in Chile. I want to see Chile’s economy prosper, and salmon are good for the economy. People in salmon communities seem to think it’s good for their communities too.

So, where are we? Based on what I've learned here I’m not going to boycott Chilean salmon; but neither am I going to be a regular customer. I’ll buy it a few times a year and I’ll support efforts like those of Oxfam/Terram to push for improvements in the industry’s environmental and labor standards.

And you?

And for other Chilean seafood, see these links:

1. Ríos, Javier López. Chile Salmon and Trout Report - April 2008 The Fish Site. On line at
2. Quiroz C., Jorge Mayo, 2007 La Economía del Salmón y la Necesidad de Un “Nuevo Trato” on line atía%20del%20Salmón%20y%20la%20Necesidad%20de%20un%20nuevo%20trato.ppt
3. New Oxfam-Terram Camaign Targets Chile Salmon Industry, The Patagonia Times, Tuesday, 15 January 2008, on line at
4. World Bank, Key Development Data & Statistics, on line at,,contentMDK:20535285~menuPK:1192694~pagePK:64133150~piPK:64133175~theSitePK:239419,00.html
5. Estudio De Percepción De La Industria Salmonera: Tendencias Y Perspectivas, Septiembre Y Octubre 2007, Salmon Chile, on line at
6.  Aysen Group To Launch Chile Salmon Boycott, The Patagonia Times, Aug 1,2008, online at

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Eating/Not-eating Chilean Salmon 2

Is farmed salmon good for the Chilean environment?

A baked Chilean Salmon

Last week I asked “Is Chilean farmed salmon good for you?” The answer, based on research from Science, The Chilean Journal of Nutrition, the Institute of Medicine of the [USA] National Academies, and others is "maybe."  Here’s what the research tells us:

1. Salmon is really good for you, especially for pregnant women and people at risk for heart attacks.

2. Chilean salmon is contaminated with organochlorides and some Chilean salmon has been found to have other contaminants, resulting from steps to fight disease. These are potentially dangerous for everyone, but especially for children and women who may become pregnant.

3. Balancing these risks and benefits, we should limit consumption of Chilean salmon to between one and 8 meals per month. Women and children should probably limit their consumption to the lower half of the range, while those at risk for heart attacks may benefit from consuming more.

“Maybe” is not a very satisfying answer, but with nutritionists strongly promoting farmed Chilean salmon and toxicologists strongly discouraging us from eating very much of it, there is no clear answer.

But other questions remain: “Is farmed salmon good for the Chilean environment?”

Salmon and the environment

Chile’s 10th Region, Los Lagos, includes dozens of lakes along with the Andes, volcanoes, rivers, forests, Chiloé Island and the northern part of the Chilean archipelago. It is among Chile’s most scenic areas, historically one of the poorest, and now home to most to Chile’s salmon farms. Other important economic activities of the region are agriculture, siliviculture, fishing and tourism.
Chilean salmon farms threaten this environment, and no one seems to claim otherwise. The major problems, in both lakes where smolts are raised, and in the sea where the salmon grow to marketable size are:  wastes, escapes, diseases and parasites, chemicals, feed/food, and aesthetics. 1, 2
Lake Huillinco, Chiloé Island site of five salmon farms, including one barely visible at the far right of the photo.
Close up of Lake Huillinco Salmon farm.

Wastes: During their 8 to 16 months in net cages in lakes and two years in sea cages salmon waste and food residues flow directly into the surrounding water. In the lakes, where no current dissipates the flow, the areas below the nets become dead zones, the oxygen taken up by the decomposition of feed residues and feces. Overall, salmon farms are a major source of nutrients to the lakes, second only to the rivers that feed them, and are thought to be the source of the lakes increasing algal growth.3 In the sea, wastes are dispersed by currents, but may also result in growth of toxic algae which poison shellfish, as has happened en the Mediterranean and Scotland 4.

Escapes:  In one respect, Chile is an ideal location for salmon farming. With no native population of wild salmon in Chilean waters, some of the potential danger of escaped salmon in other regions—disease transmission, genetic mixing, etc.—does not exist. Yet escaped salmon, estimated to number an incredible 900,000 per year 5, pose a significant threat to native fish in Chilean lakes and are also a potential threat to native marine species.

Diseases and parasites:  Crowded salmon cages promote transmission of diseases (infectious salmon anaemia, other viruses, parasites and fungi).

“All these problems are related to an underlying lack of sanitary controls,” said Dr. Felipe C. Cabello, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College in Valhalla that has studied Chile’s fishing industry. “Parasitic infections, viral infections, fungal infections are all disseminated when the fish are stressed and the centers are too close together.” 6

Chemicals:  To combat these threats salmon are treated with antibiotics, at levels claimed to be 75 to 200 times those used in Norway; fungicides, sometimes including the banned chemical malachite green; and poisons to control sea lice. Antibiotic use at these levels incurs the risk that antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria will evolve; malachite green is a carcinogen; and treatments for sea lice may have adverse effects on other crustaceans as well as on farmed mussels and other shellfish. 7

Feed:  Chilean Salmon are fed pellets of fish meal and fish oil, processed mainly from wild caught mackerel (jurel). Approximately three pounds of fish are required to produce the feed to grow one pound of salmon (although industry claims are lower and some environmentalist’s claims are much higher). Critics argue that feeding wild fish to salmon is not sustainable and results in an overall decrease in protein from forage fish to the salmon. Producers argue that the forage fish used in salmon feed are being harvested at sustainable levels and that they are species which are not especially attractive as human food and would otherwise go to waste.

Aesthetics:  Salmon pens themselves are relatively unobtrusive from sea level, though clearly visible from satellite photos, as below.  But local fishermen complain of polluted water and stinking beaches from salmon faeces and dead salmon.

Google Map satelite view of salmon cages (round at right, square at left) and shelfish farms (parellel lines) off of Puequeldon Island, east of Conchi, Chiloe Island, Chile.

Other issues: Sea lions die from entanglement in the nets and are reportedly shot by salmon farm attendants.

Salmon Pens, Palena province, Chile -  credit Oceana Cristian Gutierrez


There seems to be no other conclusion: Chilean salmon farms are environmental disasters. They are not good for the Chilean environment. Under optimum conditions they cause problems, and Chile has been lax in regulating this industry. Now, with international publicity and American supermarkets refusing to buy Chilean salmon, new regulations are being proposed; regulations which Chilean environmental group, El Centro Ecoceanos has called “weak, insufficient and accommodating” to the industry. 9

California’s Monterey Bay Marine Aquarium publishes “Seafood watch” which conducts “research on fisheries and fish farming practices and their impact on the marine environment” with recommendations on which sea foods are environmentally sustainable. Farmed salmon is on the avoid list (but see below):

Avoid these for now. These fish come from sources that are overfished, caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment. If you do nothing else, steering clear of Avoid items will have a positive impact on the health of the oceans. 10
Update Sept. 2013

Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood watch now lists farmed Chilean salmon produced by Verlasso as a "good alternative:"  


Farmed Atlantic salmon from Verlasso® is a "Good Alternative". Many potential environmental problems exist with farming salmon in open pens; efforts to minimize these impacts by Verlasso® have reduced the degree of these concerns.

All other farmed salmon has an "avoid" rating.

For part 3, go to Chilean Salmon and Chilean Society


1. Sea cage fish farming: an evaluation of environmental and public health aspects (the five fundamental flaws of sea cage fish farming). Excerpts from a paper presented by Don Staniford at the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries public hearing on ‘Aquaculture in the European Union: Present Situation and Future Prospects’, 1st October 2002:
2., Problems associated with Salmon Farming By the Environmental Media Services, on line at
3. León-Muñoz, Jorge, et al. 2007 Salmon Farming in the Lakes of Southern Chile - Valdivian Ecoregion History, tendencies and environmental impacts. Support by Chilean Society of Limnology on line at 
4. Sea cage fish farming, op cit
5. Cárdenas, Juan Carlos. The Salmon Farm Industry in Southern Chile: From Panacea to Pandora’s Box? Guest Column, November 2003, The Salmon Farm Monitor on line at
6. Barrionuevo, Alexei. 2008 Salmon Virus Indicts Chile’s Fishing Methods. New York Times,
Published: March 27, 2008 on line at
7. Cárdenas, op cit.
8. Débil, Insuficiente Y Complaciente” Es Plan De Gobierno Para Abordar Antibióticos En Salmoneras. Ecoceananos March 17, 2009 on line at
9. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Seafood Watch, Salmon. On line at

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Eating/Not-eating Chilean Salmon 1

Is it good for you?

I like salmon. I especially like wild-caught Chinook salmon—the richest and reddest there is—grilled over charcoal with corn on the cob, homegrown tomatoes, and a light zinfandel. But now I live in Chile, where salmon are not native, but are farmed. Not quite in the same league as Chinook, but good and inexpensive: $2 to $5/lb. compared to $30/lb. for that wild-caught Chinook.

But are they good for you? And are they good for the Chilean environment and Chilean society? Should we take full advantage of this great and inexpensive fish, eating it frequently; or should we avoid it for our health, and our environment and society’s health?


Chile is the largest producer of salmon in the world, now having surpassed Norway, with production of a little less that 700,000 metric tons (1 metric ton = 1000 kg/2200 lbs) in 2007; of which about 500,000 tons were exported. The main species produced here are the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), 54%, rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), 29% and coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), 17%.1

Wild salmon and sea-run rainbow trout, or steelhead, hatch from eggs in fresh water streams where they spend 2 to 6 years, and then swim down stream to the sea where they spend another 4 years or so before returning to their natal streams to spawn. Unlike Pacific salmon not all Atlantic salmon or steelhead die after spawning, and may return to sea and spawn again later.

Salmon farms more or less imitate that life cycle. Eggs stripped from adult female fish and mixed with the milt of males are hatched and grown in hatcheries until they can be transported to fresh water lakes. There they remain in net cages for 8 to 16 months until large enough—40 to 120 gm—to be taken to the sea cages where they remain for up to two years until large enough for processing at 2 kg. or more. 2

The end product is similar in taste and nutrition to wild salmon, but not identical. According to the USDA, 100 gm portion of farmed salmon has about 180 calories and about 10.9 grams of fat while a portion of wild salmon has 140 calories, and 6.3 grams of fat. The farmed salmon contains about 1.82 grams of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids while the wild contains slightly less, 1.55 grams. Both provide about 20 grams of protein. Both are pink to red, but the color of the wild salmon is due to pigments in crustaceans in its diet while the color of farmed salmon comes from pigments added to its feed.

Is farmed salmon good for you?

Yes, absolutely …unless it’s contaminated. The Institute of Medicine of the [US] National Academies tell us that:

Eating seafood is associated with benefits that include reduced risk for heart disease among the population in general and possibly reducing risk for coronary heart disease among at-risk individuals. There may be additional benefits to infants of women who consume seafood during pregnancy such as improved cognitive and other developmental outcomes.3

And Atlantic salmon, wild or farmed, is among the most beneficial seafood, with more omega-3 fatty acids than any other commercially available fish. In 2005 The Chilean Review of Nutrition published “Salmon: A Healthy Banquet” a glowing report by Alfonso Valenzuela B. on the health benefits of salmon:

Salmon is…. a good source of some important omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly of eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5, EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6, DHA). EPA consumption is associated to the protection of cardiovascular diseases, because of its hipotriglyceridemic, hipocholesterolemic, and anti-inflammatory actions. DHA is related to the development of the nervous and visual system. It has been proposed that the consumption of these fatty acids by the general population may have important health benefits…. Two to three salmon servings provide twice the suggested EPA and DHA requirements. It is necessary to promote a policy intended to increase fish consumption, particularly of salmon, due to the content of omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to other nutritional properties.4

….unless it’s contaminated. And, according to other studies (not mentioned by Mr. Valenzuela), it is.

In January 2004, a year prior to the publication of Mr. Valenzuela’s article, Science published an article entitled “Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon” (click to enlagre "Study Findings, at right)

The authors state:

Having analyzed over 2 metric tons of farmed and wild salmon from around the world for organochlorine contaminants, we show that concentrations of these contaminants are significantly higher in farmed salmon than in wild. European-raised salmon have significantly greater contaminant loads than those raised in North and South America, indicating the need for further investigation into the sources of contamination. Risk analysis indicates that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption.

And although they note that Chilean farmed salmon is lower in contaminants than European farmed salmon, they recommend consumption of no more than one meal per month, and conclude that

….this study suggests that consumption of farmed salmon may result in exposure to a variety of persistent bioaccumulative contaminants with the potential for an elevation in attendant health risks. Although the risk/benefit computation is complicated, consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption.5

Recommended limit of salmon meals per month according to US Environmental Protection Agency standards. Red = farmed salmon Green = wild salmon

This contamination comes from salmon food, meal made from small fish, especially mackerel (jurel) in Chile, and ultimately from pesticides and other chemicals that wash into the sea and contaminate the fish. Chilean farmed salmon is less contaminated that European salmon because the south Pacific, where Chilean fish meal comes from, is less contaminated than the north Atlantic, source of European fish meal. Once in the body these substances accumulate in our fat, and pregnant women pass the contamination on to their babies, where high levels can harm the developing nervous system. 6

When the Science article was published (or perhaps “hit the fan” is more descriptive), there was an immediate uproar—and not just from salmon farmers. The nutritionist community was also appalled, arguing that their conclusions failed to take into account the nutritional benefits of salmon.

The result was, of course, another study, this one by the (US) National Academies, “Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks” which concluded (surprise!) that there were both benefits and risks to consuming seafood, and without specifically mentioning salmon, that people should consider the sources—species and geographical—of their seafood as well as their own age, sex and reproductive status when deciding what to eat.

More specifically, they concluded that everyone can benefit from consuming seafood, especially seafood with higher concentrations of EPA and DHA [like salmon] “which may reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease.” A reasonable intake would be two 3-once servings a week, but up to 12 ounces a week can be consumed safely, with some exceptions: women of child bearing age and children should eat no more than 6 ounces of white tuna (albacore) per week; and should avoid large predatory fish like shark, swordfish, tilefish, or king mackerel. People who eat more than “two servings a week should “choose a variety of types of seafood to reduce the risk for exposure to contaminants from a single source.” 7

And they gave us a flow chart to help us decide 8
(click to enlarge).

End of discussion? No, not quite.

Two other issues must be considered in our calculation: disease in Chilean farmed salmon and potential contamination from steps to prevent it.
Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) is a viral disease that has been found on more than 100 Chilean salmon farms. Although it poses no risk to people, it can kill up to 50% of infected salmon. To prevent it and other salmon diseases, critics claim that Chile uses up to 300 times more antibiotics than in Norway and “traces of crystal violet, an anti-fungal chemical believed to have potentially carcinogenic properties” were found in Chilean salmon in Germany. 9
So, where are we? To the question “Is it good for you?” we have the following:
1. Salmon is good for you, especially for pregnant women and people at risk for heart attacks.

2. Chilean salmon is contaminated with organiclorides and some Chilean salmon has been found to have other contaminants, resulting from steps to fight ISA. These are potentially dangerous for everyone, but especially for children and women who may become pregnant.

3. Balancing these risks and benefits, we should limit consumption of Chilean salmon to between one and 8 meals per month. Women and children should probably limit their consumption to the lower half of the range, while those at risk for heart attacks may benefit from consuming more.

Update May 2011

The controversy over salmon consumption continues, but the tilt seems to be in the direction of the benefits of Omega-3 outweighing the risks from organiclorides. 
Benefits Of Eating Fish Greatly Outweigh The Risks, New Study Says
...for farmed salmon, the cardiovascular benefits are greater than the cancer risks by a factor of at least 300:1. With the exception of some locally caught sport fish from contaminated inland waters, the levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish should not influence decisions about fish intake.  [Harvard School of Public Health (2006, October 18). Benefits Of Eating Fish Greatly Outweigh The Risks, New Study Says. ScienceDaily.­/releases/2006/10/061018094758.htm ]
Update Sept 2013 

The Washington Post (Sept 24, 2013) published an update on the status of farmed salmon, in terms of all the parameters discussed here:  "More recent research weighing the contaminant risk against health benefits from omega-3s concluded that every serving of salmon, wild or farmed, is a net positive," and while "there is work to be done before [the] goal [of making farmed salmon sustainable] is met"  there has been great improvement.  Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood watch now lists farmed Chilean salmon produced by Verlasso as a "good alternative."  

See: Why farmed salmon is becoming a viable alternative to wild-caught

For the rest of the equation, go to “Is farmed salmon good for the Chilean environment and Chilean society?” 

1. Chile Salmon and Trout Report - April 2008, on line at
2. Production Methods for Atlantic Salmon, The, on line at
3. Balancing Choices: Supporting Consumer Seafood Consumption Decisions. Fact Sheet • October 2006. Institute of medicine of the National Academies. On line at
4. Alfonso Valenzuela B. El Salmón: Un Banquete De Salud. Rev Chil Nutr Vol. 32, Nº1, Abril 2005 on line at
5. Hites, Ronald T., et al Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon. Science 333:226 January 2004. Abstract on line at
6. Case Studdy: Organochlorine pesticides. Body Burden. On line at
7. Balancing Choices: Supporting Consumer Seafood Consumption Decisions. Free Executive Summary on line at
8. Balancing Choices: Supporting Consumer Seafood Consumption Decisions, Fact Sheet. October 2006 on line at
9. ISA: Beneath the Surface of Chile's Troubled Waters, The FishSite, Oct. 2008, on line at