Food Safety: Should We Avoid All Farm-Raised Seafood?

“It’s a common misconception that wild seafood is good and farm-raised is bad,” says Barton Seaver, director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“But globally, farm-raised seafood now accounts for about half of production and consumption. So aquaculture is here to stay. And it runs the gamut from environmentally just terrible to restorative. In some cases, it can even increase the health of the oceans that it is raised in.”

best fish for your health

For example, farm-raised clams, mussels, and oysters remove the excess nutrients that get into water systems from agricultural runoff and pollution.

“Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus have created an abundance of phytoplankton in marine and estuarine systems. Well, why don’t we grow some delicious farm-raised mussels down there that will actually take in those nutrients and give us fabulous protein? They increase the quality of water and increase the profitability of waterfront communities,” explains Seaver.

“They also preserve tradition and heritage by allowing families to continue to prosper in waterfront communities. We need to save fishermen as much as we need to save the fish.”

Originally posted on August 29, 2014. For more information about food safety click here.

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38 Replies to “Food Safety: Should We Avoid All Farm-Raised Seafood?”

  1. Farm raised seafood is scarey because the consumer has little knowledge of the health standards (if any) in many countries that produce the products.

    1. US FARMraised fish are raised under very strick conditions. The bad info out there continues to beat up the fastes growing sector of agriculture today. The population is doubling and there needs to be ways to feed the masses without the detriment to the enviornment. Aqua culture is part of that piece. it is very enviornmentally sound in the US. US fish farmers are overseen by about 15 agencies including EPA, USDA, FDA, US FW, local and state health departments etc… So critisize the use of fish meal in feeding fish. Well fish eat fish and there is no “Mad fish disease!” and the nutritional development of feeds for fish are so efficient, it actually helps the fisheries as in being converted at 1.2-1.4:1 FCR where all terestrial animals are much higher. The fish in the wild n=might catch another fish and take a bite and leave the rest, where in fish farming the diet is developed to be completely digested. Fish farming is a great thing and should be supported in the US to help ensure good, safe fish products available. All fish under the COOL legislation MUST state where the fish are from and if they are wild caught or farm rased on the retail package. MUch safer that chicken I think!!!

  2. Clams and oysters, being filter feeders, can also accumulate undesirable pollutants in their flesh. Many fanciers of raw oysters have learned this to their detriment. I think you should consider this in your advice!

    J Gordon, PhD

  3. So are there certification programs like USDA’s Organic, or–better yet–like FSC and SFI for wood products?

    We tend to go for the wild caught just because the flavor and mouthfeel is so much better…for instance, farm-raised Salmon has been pretty universally nasty, even the ocean raised stuff!

  4. Remembering that on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1960s/70s there were efforts to farm shellfish that were opposed as unsightly, and being aware of the need for nutritious/delicious protein at reasonable prices, I am glad to read that aquaculture is thriving. On the V, long ago, I was among those who admired those working to establish an industry appropriate to the island and disappointed that it came to nothing. That growing mussels in estuaries, using the accumulation of phytoplankton, seems like a genius idea to me. Yummy!

  5. This does not help us in knowing what we can buy and what we can eat when it comes to farm-raised seafood. Help!

  6. If farm-raised salmon is available, is it possible to
    find out where it was farmed and what conditions exist
    there? Are there rules to ensure healthy farming?

  7. “For example, farm-raised clams, mussels, and oysters remove the excess nutrients that get into water systems from agricultural runoff and pollution.”

    Uh…if the “nutrients” from pollution accumulate in clams, mussels, and oysters, the rest of the nasty stuff in pollution must also accumulate. How is this good for my health?

  8. I agree with G. Mixon and Judy Gordon what’s the point eating farm raised mussels and oysters if they are just going to accumulate toxins in their flesh. What about the feeds that are given to the fishes???? are they getting a mix of GMO grains?????

    1. Precisely what I gathered from the article. GREAT TO HAVE CLEANER OCEANS AT THE EXPENSE OF OUR HEALTH! I’ll continue to avoid Farm Raised and opt for the healthier choice from cleaner waters.

      1. Good idea, but where are the cleaner waters, and how do hou know that your wild-caught fish came from them? Have you seen the satellite shots of pretty much the entire Pacific Ocean showing the garbage and slop that’s taking over?

  9. Here’s a novel idea: Don’t eat any fish or seafood. It will prevent overfishing, help oceans and oceanic creatures, and maintain your own personal health. Get healthy fats in your diet from avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods. It’s more than doable — it’s enjoyable and ethical.

    1. Hi Cara,

      I second your suggestion. I recently saw the film “forks over knives” and it has transformed the way I, as well as my family eats. There is even a forks over knives cookbook!

  10. Thank you, Sue. As a long-time Nutrition Action subscriber and fan,this article about farm-raised fish was disappointing for the reasons expressed above by other comments. It attempted to be vaguely reassuring without providing facts or tools to learn more, something Nutrition Action readers typically want and expect from Nutrition Action. Your link is most informative and I thank you for it. I look forward to a more detailed and nuanced exploration of this issue by Nutrition Action.

  11. Then I suppose everyone here who is against farm raised fish will just have to slowly eliminate fish out of their diets. Between all the increased levels of mercury being found in our Pacific raised fish and the cesium being found in them from the Fukushima disaster that is still spewing out hundreds of tons of radioactive waste daily, go ahead, eat your wild stuff! Personally, I’m bummed (I LOVE fish!!), so I welcome new farming technology, just not the GMO kind, which is a whole ‘nother issue.

  12. Any seafood farm raised is being fed. You have no idea the junk in the farm food. Things like rocket fuel, which cause non-beneficial weight gain. Seafood is sold by weight.

  13. Farmed seafood is a healthy option, with a good omega3 content.
    If you want to know how good your seafood is check your retailers website and lobby them get more sustainable in their sourcing.
    As consumers we have the power to change things. If you are (able) to change your supermarket because you don’t like what your retailer stocks then do so.
    If you want some advice check out sites like Seafood Watch from Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.

  14. I would like agree with the two comments suggesting that there is plenty of fat, protein, and other nutrients in plant food so that no one needs to eat seafood — or beef, pork, or fowl, for that matter.

  15. That Monterrey Bay Aquarium site (link above) doesn’t rate the seafood by how healthy it might be to consume. It focuses on sustainability. Not that helpful for me (much like this article).

  16. Y’all should watch the documentary, “Salmon Confidential,” which exposes the suppression by the Canadian government & Health Services of BC salmon testing positive for dangerous European salmon viruses that are associated with salmon farming worldwide- you can view it for free online. This film really opened my eyes to the hazards of fish farming, and it’s dire consequences on the environment & our health.

  17. This information is all good to hear about, but this leaves the decision for your our well being still a questionable choice! Just who do you want to believe? Everyone is trying to survive in their business’. Maybe eating different choices in moderation may be the answer!

  18. Wow, lots of fallacies here . . .

    The “eat more vegetables argument” . . . a clear red herring. Why are people debating this when the article was postulated on the consumption of seafood? This isn’t an article about vegetarianism.

    The “farm raised is bad idea” is a false choice . . . Is all farm raised seafood bad? I don’t think anyone has cited evidence for this. Even the Monterey Bay Seafood Guide lists some farm raised fish in their “best choices” section.

    Is this just a podium for folks to be heard regardless of whether the content addresses the argument of the article? I like Nutrition Action . . . but these forums seems to be the antithesis of solid scientific reporting.

  19. I have also read that the food pellets given to farm raised salmon decimate the small fish population that’s
    Used in the pellets.

  20. Eeeeekkkkk. I have no idea what to do having read all the comments….bad fish farms or poison in wild fish or destructive to the environment if we overfish or destructive if we underfish because of the farms.

    Frankly, I did like farmed salmon because it didn’t taste ‘fishy’…but have stopped eating it because of its impact on the environment.

    Also, when at a restaurant I have no way of knowing if their farm raised offerings are from a ‘good’ farm or ‘bad’ farm.

    We are just lay people here trying to eat as well as we can…and it has become such a muddle.

  21. wpnderful and newsy.now it is up to the individual to make a personal choice. is there a ‘good’ choice available???

  22. I love salmon, wild salmon would be optimal. Having said that, the wild salmon migration routes are being polluted by the parasite containing farmed fisheries these salmon have to pass through on the way. I am not talking about those who follow and monitor, but to those who do not put public safety in the forfront of their business, rather the mighty dollar fuels their business. These farmed salmon are not being provided a diet which would increase the nutritional value as does wild salmon. Fattening them up with GMO feed does not improve nutrition for humans.

  23. Your article does not, unfortunately, provide any useful information as to how prospective fish buyers can know which fish farms it IS safe to buy from, and which ones to avoid.

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