September 20, 2004

Health benefits of eating salmon far outweigh the potential risks from contaminants


NEWMARKET - Public Health Nutritionists from York Region Health Services highly recommend eating salmon as an excellent source of essential nutrients.


Salmon has been given a bad rap lately.  In January of this year, a study was released concluding that farmed salmon had ten times more PCBs[1] than wild salmon.  PCBs are environmental contaminants that accumulate in the fat of animals and fish.  They were widely used for industrial purposes until 1977 when they were banned in North America. 


More recently in August another study found higher levels of PBDEs[2], which are chemical fire retardants, in farmed salmon compared to wild salmon.  PBDEs are also environmental contaminants. 


So, should we give up salmon dinners?  Not yet. 


With regards to the first study, the level of PCBs found in the farmed salmon was 36.6 ppb[3] compared to 3 ppb in the wild salmon.  This appears to be quite a discrepancy.  But it really isnít such a big difference when examined within a broader context.  Health Canada, the US Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have set the acceptable limit of PCBs in food at 2000 ppb.  The levels found in farmed salmon represent less than 2% of the acceptable limit.


As for the second study, researchers found trace levels of PBDEs in farmed and wild salmon.  The farmed salmon had slightly higher levels of PBDE compared to wild salmon (4 ppb versus 1 ppb).  But when compared to other possible sources of PBDEs in the environment, exposure from eating salmon is only a minor component of a personís total exposure.  For example, household dust has approximately 1,000 times more PBDEs than fish.


Despite the above two studies, Health Canada reinforces that these levels of PCBs and PBDEs in our current food supply are extremely low and do not pose any health risks to Canadians.


There is mounting evidence that eating fish rich in omega-3 fats is healthy.  So much so, the American Heart Association recommends that people eat a variety of fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times per week because of the protective effects it has on the heart. Examples of fatty fish are salmon, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout and bluefin tuna.                                          


Higher intakes of omega-3 fats have also been linked to prevention of Alzheimerís disease, arthritis and depression.  As well, omega-3 fats have been associated with contributing to a healthier immune system, a reduction of risk of colon and breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration in the eyes. 


There are many other reasons to eat fish, besides the healthy omega-3 fats.  Fish is also low in saturated fat, is a source of high quality protein (higher than chicken, beef and pork) and contains other essential nutrients such as vitamin D, zinc and selenium.


Regardless of whether you eat farmed or wild salmon, the health benefits of eating salmon far outweigh the potential risks from contaminants and it remains highly recommended as an excellent source of essential nutrients.


For accurate, reliable and current nutrition information, speak to a Registered Dietitian at York Region Health Services Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653 or visit




Contact:                        Wendy Lewis, York Region Corporate Communications Services

                                    905-830-4444 Ext. 1238     




Health Canada, Aug. 18, 2004.  Press Release: Government of Canada Assures Public that Farmed and Wild Salmon are Safe to Consume.


Health Canada, Aug 17, 2004.  Food Safety and Contaminants in Salmon.



Science, Jan.9, 2004


Environmental Science and Technology, Aug. 10, 2004


[1] PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl)

[2] PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl)

[3] ppb (parts per billion)

Back to top