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The Truth About Farmed Salmon at Whole Foods Market

The mild, satisfying flavor and melt-in-your mouth texture of farmed salmon is pleasing to kids and adults alike, yet unanswered questions about its origins may leave a bad taste in your mouth. Were the water conditions sanitary? Were the fish fed a nutritious diet? Did the fish have enough room? Before you pass up an opportunity for a delicious farmed-salmon dish, here are six myths about farmed salmon we’re happy to debunk.


MYTH: All fish farming is bad.

FACT: Farming seafood can provide a consistent, high-quality, year-round supply of healthy and delicious protein. And when it's done right, fish farming — also known as aquaculture — can be environmentally friendly and can be a crucial way to supplement wild-caught fish supplies. On the other hand, poor farming practices, including those that cause water pollution and the overuse of chemicals and antibiotics are indeed very bad news.

Our strict Quality Standards for Aquaculture and third-party verification process ensure that we only source farmed seafood (including salmon) from the world's leaders in environmentally responsible aquaculture. We know they’re truly invested in our standards because together with scientists and environmentalists, they helped us to develop our Quality Standards for Aquaculture, which include:

  • No use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian by-products in feed
  • Traceability that allows us to track our farmed seafood right back to where it swam
  • Requirements that producers minimize the impacts of fish farming on the environment by monitoring water quality and surrounding habitats, and sourcing feed ingredients responsibly
  • Strict protocols to prevent farmed fish from escaping into the wild and protect wildlife around the farm
  • Our farmers do not treat nets with toxic chemicals to get rid of algae and no pesticides are used
  • Genetically engineered fish are prohibited
  • Colorants only from non-synthetic sources

MYTH: There is no way to know how the farmed salmon you’re purchasing was raised.

FACT: At Whole Foods Market, we know exactly where our farmed seafood comes from. We know where it swam and we know what it was fed...and more importantly, what it wasn't fed!

Third party auditors verify traceability of all our farm products during on-site audits. In addition, our suppliers use Trace Register software to track their products through the supply chain to help us verify traceability.

MYTH: Farmed salmon are kept in crowded pens.

FACT: Our farmed salmon are raised in low-density pens where they are carefully monitored and receive nutritious feed without pesticides or land animal by-products.

MYTH: Farmed salmon sold at Whole Foods Market might be genetically engineered.

FACT: Our Quality Standards for Aquaculture prohibit cloned or genetically engineered animals.

MYTH: Farmed salmon from other countries shouldn’t be trusted.

FACT: Our Quality Standards for farm-raised salmon include strict requirements and expectations for all producers operating in all countries who supply fish to our stores. Our supplier partners in Norway, Iceland and Scotland are the leaders in environmentally friendly salmon farming. Take a look at this video on YouTube of our salmon farming partners in Norway.

Whole Foods Market Responsibly Farmed SeafoodThe Responsibly Farmed Seal
Whether you’re shopping for farmed salmon or another type of farmed fish, you’ll find our “Responsibly Farmed” seal. This means that the farm has been third-party audited annually to ensure that our Quality Standards are being met. No other grocery store or fish market has standards like ours.

Fishing for more information? Learn more about our sustainable seafood initiatives including our strict Quality Standards for Aquaculture and our standards for wild-caught seafood.

Have you already made the choice to only purchase seafood raised or caught in environmentally friendly ways? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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211 comments

Comments

Marion Anderson says …

Thank you for the great information I will buy farmed fish from you store. Keep up the good work.

Marion Anderson says …

Thank you for the great information I will buy farmed fish from you store. Keep up the good work.

Andy says …

There's no mention of testing for mercury. There's no mention of the amount of mercury or other heavy metals/toxins compared to wild caught fish.

Judy Mooney says …

Thank you for this informative article. I have always heard a lot of negative comments about farmed salmon that I have been afraid to purchase it. No longer particularly since my physician recently advised me to eat more salmon. And, now I know where I can find a healthy source.

nina grenfell says …

Even after reading your article, when I puchase salmon to prepare for my family I will be buying wild caught Alaska salmon.

Suzy says …

We love salmon in our household and were avoiding farm raised in the last few years. Looks like its time to try it again from Whole Foods after reading this reassuring article.

Marcia Selinger says …

Sorry, but this article still does not convince me. I would rather buy your frozen wild salmon than your fresh farmed salmon.

msorgi1144 says …

Fish is something I am very careful about purchasing. I have learned in the past that fish such as tilapia and catfish which are farm raised are basically garbage fish. Sorry but I trust no farm raised seafood or fish at this time. Other than that I love Whole foods and I know they carry many of the things I cannot find elsewhere.

Michelle says …

I would like to know what qualifies as a "Low Density" pen? How much room do the salmon actually get? Do salmon in low density pens still develop sea lice and/or cataracts and go blind due to stress?

Judy Lockett says …

Thanks for this information. For one with heart issues and macular degeneration eating more salmon is really important. At our local Whole Foods market this morning I saw your really attractive package, 2 lbs., individually wrapped, frozen salmon fillets. So convenient and affordable. Keep up your good work. I'll be shopping your fish market more often.

James Butler says …

You provide a lot of info on your farm raised Salmon but ignore the most important one to me. What about the Mercury content of Farm raised Salmon vs Wild Salmon? How does your Farm Raised Salmon's Mercury content compare to the Mercury content in Wild Salmon? We have stopped eating Farm Raised Salmon because of the high Mercury Levels that could compromise our health. We used to eat Salmon at least 3 times a week. We love it!

cmcd732 says …

Barbara Usher has the right idea.....As we all know-"Money talks" and I don't believe any chain is above that. Until Whole Foods gets rid of ALL GMO products that they continue to have on their shelves, I cannot believe what they say about their fish being free of any harmful toxins.

Gaby Maldonado says …

The people I know and I have stopped buying farmed fish, and will continue to do so, we do not trust this 3rd party certification, and will not buy any farmed fish, this includes all our congregation and social clubs, we are over 2,000 and counting, we are looking forward to continue buying wild fish.

Ms. E. says …

To purchase Salmon from your farming partners in Norway what should I buy @ your store, fresh or frozen and the brand. Thank you Ms.E

Merna says …

Sorry, interesting article but I'm not convinced - for many of the reasons already mentioned by others. If farmed fish, even with your strict parameters, are perfectly good, why the need to add coloring? I will continue to buy wild salmon.

Larry schmitt says …

You say what's not in the food but I would like to know are they fed organic non gmo food Or what is their food made from . We make a effort to eat GMO free food as well as gluton free food What are they fed

Jody J says …

What Myth I heard is that Farm Raised Salmon Does not have as much Omega 3's, 6's, and 9's and Fresh Caught. So I by-pass Salmon at Hy-Vee or any store. The Price I am Not going to pay if I can't get all I expect out of this Fish. Is This true on the Omega's?

Donna says …

Mercury is of a concern. I have heard that it is present in high levels in farmed salmon compared to wild caught. Is this true?

Sandy G says …

Thank you so much for this article. I love fish - but the price of wild seafood is not always within my budget. Glad I can choose the farm raised fish at Whole Foods!

sue schmitt says …

The article does not cover their diet . What are they fed ?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

Carrie, our Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator, said: No propaganda here. We encourage you to take a look at our detailed Quality Standards for Farmed Seafood, which are available on our website for anyone to see. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture. We make these rigorous standards completely transparent in an effort to help create a model for more sustainable aquaculture. Annual third-party audits on the farm verify that the standards are being met. As far as density goes, check out our definition for farmed salmon in standard 3.4. And as for adding colorants, we allow only colorants from non-synthetic sources. In the wild, fish like salmon, steelhead trout, and Arctic char get their reddish color naturally from the wild species they eat, such as shrimp. But when they’re farmed, their feed contains fish species that do not necessarily contain the same pigments.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

Carrie mentioned that actually, farm-raised salmon does have high omega-3s and it’s just as high (or higher than wild-caught salmon. Check out this useful nutritional database. Scroll down on the page to see the total omega-3s in farmed salmon http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4258/2 and in wild-caught salmon http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4104/2. You can search many species of wild-caught salmon here. Just be sure to compare raw to raw and cooked to cooked. Note that these are general nutritional profiles. The source is from USDA SR-21 (see footnotes on the webpages for details). In addition, because we know customers want to makes sure farmed salmon provides enough beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, our Quality Standards require that all farmed salmon contains at least 1,820 mg of combined EPA and DHA per eight ounce piece of uncooked salmon. See standard 4.14 here http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@AZMI - Carrie, our Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator said: I encourage you to check out our detailed standards available here. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture. Most people have no idea just how high we’ve set the bar until they check out the standards. From the standards, you’ll be able to see just how far our supplier partners are going to bring the highest quality, responsibly farmed salmon. Third-party audits verify that farmers are meeting the standards. When you look around at what else is being sold out there, I encourage asking what their specific sourcing standards are and how they demonstrate compliance. Thanks for writing in!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

Hey Everyone! I spoke with Carrie on our Seafood Quality Standards team regarding feed. She said that: Feed for farmed fish includes protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other essential nutrients. The specific ingredients in feed vary according to the species that’s being fed because nutritional requirements are different for different species. In addition, feed ingredients vary according to the location of the farm, as the availability of ingredients is not always the same in different locations/countries. In addition, our Quality Standards for Farmed Seafood prohibit antibiotics, synthetic pigments, and poultry/mammalian products, and parasiticides in feed. Feed for farmed salmon will include fishmeal and fish oil from species such as herring and we encourage producers to utilize by-products of fish processing to reduce pressure on wild fish populations. Other ingredients may include wheat, soya bean meal, sunflower meal, maize gluten, vitamins, and minerals. Some customers have expressed concerns that feed can contain grains. It’s important to understand that fish metabolize the feed that they’re fed before we actually eat the fish. However, if you’re still concerned, we recommend farmed molluscs like clams, oysters, and mussels, which do not receive any added feed, or wild-caught seafood.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

Carrie also stated that: In the wild, fish like salmon, steelhead trout, and Arctic char get their reddish color from the species they eat, such as shrimp-like critters, which contain carotenoid pigment including Astaxanthin. But when they’re farmed, their feed contains fish species that do not necessarily contain the same pigments. For example, feed for farmed salmon will include some fishmeal and fish oil, but it typically comes from species like herring, anchovies and mackerel, which do not affect the salmon’s flesh color in the same way. To give farmed fish like salmon the reddish color that customers expect, farmers purchase feed that has carotenoid pigment added to it. Our Quality Standards for farmed seafood require that if pigment is used, it comes from a non-synthetic source. There are two sources of carotenoid pigment used by our producers today: Phaffia, which is sourced from a type of yeast and Panaferd, which is from a type of bacteria (specifically the bacterium Paracoccus carotinifaciens). Both are approved by the FDA. Consumers of fish that received pigment in their feed are not directly consuming the yeast or bacteria. For example, Panaferd is produced by fermentation of Paracoccus bacteria which are killed by heat and concentrated in a final drying process. The bacterial cells contain high levels of carotenoid pigments, the majority of which is Astaxanthin. As fish consume feed containing the Panaferd, the carotenoid pigment is absorbed and deposited into fish’s flesh, giving it the reddish color. People do not consume the bacteria itself. Furthermore, astaxanthin has antioxidant properties, which may impart health benefits for people when they eat the fish. In fact, carotenoid supplements, including astaxanthin, are popular among our customers who are looking for additional sources of antioxidants. Similarly, when Phaffia yeast is used to produce the pigment, consumers do not ingest the yeast directly. Because of the processing involved and the fact that the fish digest the feed first, it’s the carotenoids that consumers are exposed to, not the yeast itself.

Rachael Hewes says …

Who is your seafood supplier ?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@RACHAEL - Our suppliers will differ between stores. Check with your local store for details.

gail says …

I lived in Iceland. I know the standard is high for farmed raised Icelandic salmon. I was delighted to see my favorite salmon in your stores. Thank you for the informative article.

Ann Burns says …

I will only buy wild salmon.

Wilbert Smith says …

how are you so sure that farm salmon pesticide VIRUS and how many time been changed monthly ?

Robert Burmeister says …

It's exciting to work with such an amazing company like Whole Foods helping to ensure the products customers buy are traceable, consistent and good to eat. Robert of Trace Register

gertrude says …

hello, is your farm raised fish non gmo?? thanx!!

Mary says …

Since this is farmed in Norway, I would feel comfortable eating the farmed salmon. The caretakers of the salmon look dedicated to their welfare after viewing the video. Nice to know they don't use GMO's in their diet. Looking forward to trying it soon.

Heather Ross says …

Thank you for your high standards of practice. Why do you need to color the Salmon?

Heather Ross says …

Farmed salmon are flabby in texture, and consequently not used in higher end restaurants. This flabby-ness comes from the fishes' confined quarters; I know you stated your fish are in 'non-crowded' pens, but how does that relate to their texture? How does their taste and texture to wild, such as Coho or King? Thank you.

Micah says …

One concern that isn't discussed in your post is the impact of farmed salmon on the local stocks of wild salmon through parasites and disease. In the European farms the issue is mostly related to sea lice, which have been found to have serious impacts on the local wild fish populations. That's why Norway has banned these pens in proximity to their most important atlantic salmon rivers. I'm very disappointed that Whole Foods sells farmed salmon. It's even worse to see enthusiastic marketing of farmed salmon with little regard for the science on the issue.

Roslyn says …

Are the salmon fed non-gmo foods?

Roberta Reed says …

Thanks for trying to do the right thing, but if the fish was raised with the correct nutrients there would be no need to add coloring. The coloring of wild-caught fish is a sign of proper nutrition both for the fish and for the animal who eats that fish. I'll stick to wild-caught fish.

Amy Call says …

I appreciate the information on farming practices which Whole Foods (and I as consumer) support. I try hard to follow the guidelines listed on the Shedd Aquarium Right Bite card, but sometimes need to lapse into blind faith when shopping--even at Whole Foods...

Paul Hoffenberg says …

Great info! Makes me a new buyer for Whole Foods farmed raised fish. Ty

Lina says …

Thank you!!! I am so grateful to Whole Foods for everything they do an stand for. I drive a half hour out of my way to only shop there for groceries now. I am so so so happy that I can still eat Salmon as I can trust it is non-GMO and responsibly raised. Thanks for posting this arcticle. Yay!

Jennifer says …

My friend told me about how wonderfully tasting WF salmon was and was so glad I tried it! I used to buy salmon elsewhere, but now I ONLY buy from WF. Thank you WF for making environmentally responsible and oh so tasty salmon available!

rea glazer says …

My family has been enjoying the farmed salmon from Norway, Iceland, and/or Scotland for a long time now. I stopped buying all fish because of the Nuclear tragedy in Japan which has contaminated our Pacific Ocean. I realize that fish from Norway, Iceland, and Scotland is not from the Pacific Ocean, but I still have concerns about radiation contamination. Are we doing anything to test fish for radiation contamination? I sure miss eating fish.

Michael says …

Can you tell us what is in the "feed"? Just because there are no GMO, growth hormone, etc...in the feed doesn't necessarily mean that the feed contains the natural food that the fish would actually be eating in the wild.

Sally says …

Thank you for all this information about the safety of your fish. It has been a long time since my husband and I have felt safe eating Tilapia, etc. We will definitely be purchasing fish from Harry's Whole Foods.

Susan says …

Thank you for this information. Yeah, I can eat samon again.

Susan says …

Thank you for the information. But I agree with those who don't want color added--we can deal with the color being pale compared to wild salmon.

Doug says …

I love your farmed samon I have to drive one hour to get to WF Orlando wish you would put a store near Kissimmee Thanks Doug

Bill Leingang says …

Why not just head the article Whole Foods it is a fricken commercial

TD says …

Sorry, not sold on the idea.

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