I have been worried about including farmed fish on our menu for some time, recently writing a post about farmed salmon. Like many issues regarding the purity of our food supply, two competing schools of thought are both concerned with the safety of farmed fish. On one hand there is the FDA and many producers who are mainly looking at whether products are “safe” in that you won’t get obviously sick or die from consuming the food. If the foods tested contain compounds that are “unapproved” in that food, or that exceed “safe” levels, those foods will be withheld or recalled. On the other hand if the level of chemicals falls below what is deemed safe by the FDA, the food is approved for sale to the consumer with no strings attached. Then there are people like me that fervently believe that we have a right to know what foreign compounds are found to be in our food, even if the FDA determines that the levels of these compounds fall within safe ranges. I like to know what is in my food so that I may make the choice of what I want to eat. This seems reasonable and straight forward to me, does it to you?
Well, yesterday the Associated Press announced the FDA blocked the import and sale of three types of Chinese fish because the fish contained drugs “unapproved” for use in farmed fish. These fish were supposedly farmed in ponds isolated from native species, so avoid some of the environmental impacts associated with the farming of salmon. However, there is no getting around the need to use a variety of drugs to raise fish in the unnatural confines of a fish farm. The obvious implication of the AP story is that if the Chinese had just used approved drugs, all would be well in the land of the guardians of our food supply. Why did the Chinese use these drugs on the fish to be exported to the U.S., knowing that the drugs were unapproved? Maybe because the Chinese fish farmers know that the FDA inspects only 5%, at best, of all imported farmed fish.
Fish can be problematic when trying to determine if it is safe to eat. I would recommend across the board that we do not eat farmed fish until there is a comprehensive procedure in place to test and monitor the purity of the fish. If fish can not be raised in farms without the use of antibiotics and anti-parasitic chemicals, then fish should not be farmed. We also need to test wild fish. Just because the fish you buy is wild caught, does not guarantee it is clean. The plight of the Striped Bass of San Francisco Bay proves that.
So what to do? If you like fish, the answer is not clear cut. Fish is not a food that will probably ever be certified organic. If farmed, it seems impossible to produce without drugs and chemicals. If wild, there is no way to be sure of everything that fish has eaten and everywhere it has lived. If you choose to consume fish, it might have to be an ongoing and evolving process to determine which fish to eat.
I no longer eat farmed fish at all. I do eat salmon, tuna, and a couple other species of wild caught fish. Unfortunately, I can’t be sure that even these fish are completely clean. After all, maybe some of the wild caught salmon have spent time swimming in the polluted waters around commercial salmon farms. I also have concerns about consuming fish that may be endangered by over-fishing. So, I do not eat Swordfish or certain species of rockfish, and I eat Albacore tuna, not the large open water tuna like Bluefin.