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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

Lisa Granchelli says …

I purchased this salmon last week......best I ever had.

Judy C says …

Just what IS in the food fed the farmed salmon? Does it contain soy?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JUDY - It depends on the vendor. Check with your local store and they can check the exact feed with the vendor.

neal manne says …

Could you clarify what it means that your farmed salmon contains only non-synhetic coloring? What sort of coloring is used? Why do you use coloring at all, rather than just selling the salmon in its genuinely natural color? Thanks-- very interesting information.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@NEAL - In the wild, fish like salmon, 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.

Erika Lindeman says …

I saw some questions posted that I found the answers to when reading about farmed salmon from Norway. Their pens are not crowed it's 2.5% fish to 97.5% water ratio. And to give them a better color, beta carotine is used. People should just review Norway's guidelines, as their government has set strict controls of the handling of the fish (which is awesome).

Charity says …

The article is good but is contradictory because you say that farmed Salmon from Norway is safe and that you refer to the Seafood Watch guide (Monterey Bay Aquarium). This list, however, has farmed Salmon from Norway, Scotland, Chile and British Columbia on its "Avoid" list. I would probably not trust farmed Salmon again. Too much info around that says to avoid. This is sad for me because wild is so expensive...

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CHARITY - We just released a new post at https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/our-farmed-salmon-goes-beyond-industry-norms that will give you more insight in to your question!

Chef Mike says …

When I was cooking professionally, we would occasionally get salmon in (we would by whole salmon by the case a few times a week, maybe 6-8 whole fish each time) that you could tell had been pushed to the outside of the "pen". They had no fin on the outside and their heads were actually curved from swimming in the same direction, against a concrete wall their whole life. Not all farmed fish is equal. What you are showing is outstanding. If anyone thinks this is overcrowded, then you have no idea what you are talking about. And for those opposed to any colorant, you and many many other people would never buy salmon again if you saw it sitting there looking like bluefish or trout. As long as we are talking plant based, non-GMO colorant. Sure, wild caught is great! Love it, better flavor, leaner, but at what cost? $22 a pound or something vs $12? Everybody wants it cheap and easy, and then complains about price or practice. OH no! Farm raised! My healthcare provider told me... Blah. Go buy a boat.

Chris says …

Truth about whole Foods Salmon

Susan says …

On the Dr. Oz show, it was stated that farmed fish is bad for you as the fish feces contaminates the fish. How is it that an eminent hear surgeon like Dr. Oz is wrong according to you and why should I take your word for it over Dr. Oz?

Gregg says …

Sorry, I'm not buying it. I'm disappointed that Whole Foods would try to justify selling farmed fish. When colorants are added, there is a problem. "Responsibly farmed' is an oxymoron.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SUSAN - You are welcome to make your own personal decision about farmed fish but I can assure you we have a strict set of quality standard guidelines that our suppliers must meet before we purchase any of their fish. You can read a detailed outline of these requirements at http://wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture.

Yolanda Dugger says …

Could you provide the name of the company that you receive your fish (Salmon) from so that I can research the company outside of the information that Whole Foods provide. Frequent shopper at Wholes Foods, Johns Creek Ga.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@YOLANDA - Our exact salmon vendors can differ between regions/stores. Check with your local store to see where their salmon vendor is located.

Nora says …

This article doesn't address methyl mercury levels in farmed salmon vs wild the EWG found farmed salmon from Scotland to be particularly high. In methyl mercury and doesn't recommend for pregnant women. Do the third party quality test analyze methyl mercury concentrations?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@NORA - Fortunately, most farmed fish are low in mercury. They live for a relatively short time so they do not accumulate as much mercury as some species of wild fish. And if they are fed fish, it is usually types low in mercury. You can read more info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/food-safety/methylmercury-seafood

Suzanna says …

I love WF's standards for keeping farm raised fish sustainable and healthy for the consumer, but I read on a sign at my local WF there is coloring added to the fish! This contradicts the policy of having additives or coloring to foods. A little disappointing, but I am sure there is a logical explanation?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SUZANNA - Great question. 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).

Linda says …

I was very disappointed to find there was only wild sockeye salmon in the store today so I took a gamble and tried the farmed salmon from Norway. It was delicious and after reading this I feel even better about my decision. I only buy fish from Wholefoods as I know I can trust that it will be safe, healthy and environmentally conscious.

Stephen Berman says …

What is the feed?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@STEPHEN - All feed 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. Feed for farmed fish may include, as an example, fish meal, fish oil, vegetable oil, soybean meal, wheat flour, rice bran, and corn.There are a number of things that we prohibit in feed. These include antibiotics, synthetic pigments, and poultry/mammalian products, and parasiticides.

Evelyn Jalbuena Ruiz says …

Just want the truth. Is it healthy or not to eat Responsibly Farmed Salmon. I asked the guy at whole foods what that meant. He said no color added or antibiotic and that the "farm" or whatever it is called is monitored. I have been eating wild salmon regardless how much it costs so long that my health is not jeopardized. I know it is hard to be 100% healthy in all things, but we try. I bought this Farmed salmon in Whole Foods in SB and I still have left over that I haven't cooked yet. Should I cook the rest?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@EVELYN - We provide information about our standards around farm raised salmon and we allow our customers to choose to purchase this or not. In regards to the remainder of your salmon, I would suggest either cooking the fish as soon or possible or freeze the remaining amount. You can also check with your local store to see how long the salmon is good for.

melissa says …

If I am going to eat it I want specifics. What exactly are they fed? How many fish to a pen? How big are the pens? Where is the fish from, city and country? Do you test the mercury level of the fish, how often and are they in safe ranges? Thank you

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MELISSA - The exact type of feed will differ between farms so you can always check with your local store to have them check directly with the vendor. You can also find tons of info on our website about mercury content and other info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture.

Liz says …

I am so disappointed. I purchased salmon today from the prepared foods section of whole foods and the label stated "Herb Roasted Icelandic Salmon" and it was listed as "All Natural Salmon" on the ingredient label. I am an avid whole foods shopper because I don't have to second guess or question any of purchases. When I got back to work to eat my lunch, I thought to myself hmm what is "Icelandic Salmon" exactly - I assumed anything farm-raised or not wild caught would be labeled as such, especially at whole foods. So of course, I figured it was wild caught. To ease my mind, I called the local whole foods I went to and the lady informed me it was farm-raised! If I wanted farm-raised salmon I wouldn't go to whole foods to purchase it. Even high end restaurants use farm-raised salmon now. I can't seem to find anywhere to go that uses fresh, wild caught salmon anymore - so I assumed whole foods would be the best place considering what they are known for. Just FYI - even though it was purchased in the prepared foods section, the label SHOULD STILL SAY farm-raised. NO WHERE on the label did it say anything or have that blue seal you mentioned in this blog.

Kjell Jacobsen says …

Sorry, but Salmon fish are not supposed to live in such conditions as farmed slamon does. I`m not buying your propaganda... Nice try though.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LIZ - I'm sorry to hear about your purchase. The labels described in this blog are referring to signage specifically in our Seafood department. I will definitely pass along your suggestion to our Prepared Foods team about listing the type of salmon used. If you visit your local Seafood department, there will be information on the signage whether the fish options are wild or farmed.

Annalise says …

Does anyone know if WF farmed salmon is tested for PCB's? I can't find any information on the levels of these toxins which have been linked to cancer! What is the source of PCB's in the aquaculture environment.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ANNALISE - If you’re concerned about PCBs, but would like to continue eating species like farmed salmon, we can recommend that you try either wild-caught salmon, which typically is lower in PCBs or try another species of farmed fish that is fed feed with less fish oil in it, such as catfish, tilapia, or molluscs, which do not receive any added feed at all. Our standards for farmed seafood do set a limit for contaminants, such as PCBs and we’re working with the individual farmers to meet the goals stated in the standards.

Leah says …

What about PCB levels in wf farmed salmon? I have been feeding this to my young child and this is not addressed at all in the article.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LEAH - We can recommend that you try either wild-caught salmon, which typically is lower in PCBs or try another species of farmed fish that is fed feed with less fish oil in it, such as catfish, tilapia, or molluscs, which do not receive any added feed at all. Our standards for farmed seafood do set a limit for contaminants, such as PCBs and we’re working with the individual farmers to meet the goals stated in the standards.

michael layne says …

do you track pcb levels in your farm raised salmon?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MICHAEL - If you’re concerned about PCBs, but would like to continue eating species like farmed salmon, we can recommend that you try either wild-caught salmon, which typically is lower in PCBs or try another species of farmed fish that is fed feed with less fish oil in it, such as catfish, tilapia, or molluscs, which do not receive any added feed at all. Our standards for farmed seafood do set a limit for contaminants, such as PCBs and we’re working with the individual farmers to meet the goals stated in the standards.

Daniella Valdes says …

I purchase my salmon from whole foods, and I know that I am eating quality food. What whole foods does on a daily basis is incredible. There are so many harmful chemicals in our society today, and is is amazing to know that whole foods wants to create a healthier world. Thank you for all that you do.

marguerite digiorgio says …

I would like to believe your positive report on the farmed salmon that you sell. But there is more sales pitch than specific information. Please dig a little deeper: Provide some side-by-side nutritional comparisons, specifics on feed and environmental outcomes even with best practices. I think any use of dye, even natural, is to sell something other than what it is. Why not put effort into truly educating the consumer on what is the nutrition and environmental impact of this paler captive, genetically modified version of wild salmon.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARGUERITE - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As you will notice, we have TONS of information available through the links provided in this post. You can find specific environmental impacts discussed on our Aquaculture page at https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture. You will also find detailed info about feed in the middle of that page as well.

Connie Pera says …

I read recently in the Wall Street Jrnl, 9/25 art le a out farmed salmon by Sarah Nassauer two seemingly contradictory statements about Whole Foods. In the beginning paragraphs, Ms Nassauer states that Whole foods reduced the number of suppliers to 3 when it instituted rigid standards in 2007, but is adding more. Later, towards the end of the article (pD4) is the statement that "WF buys all of it's farmed salmon for Midwest stores from a land-based salmon farmer in Iceland" quoting Mr.Pilat of WF. Which is true?

Peter Nilson says …

I just purchased some farm raised Salmon over the weekend. Can't find any responsibility seal. Now I feel I should return it. Wondering why it doesn't have one. Farmed in the UK. Color added. No antibiotics or hormones. But was it farmed responsibly????

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@PETER - Did you get this from the Seafood counter? If so, items that are farmed must meet our high standards in order to be in the case. Typically the seal will be on the signage of the fish in the case, but not the sticker for the product once they wrap it. The farmed fish must our standards which you can find in detail at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture. If you want to double check with the store, they would be happy to check the signage and help you with a return if you decided you did not want it any longer.

Peter says …

Thanks for the reply Nikki. I got them from the floor case across from the seafood counter. It says farm raised on the package.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@PETER - That does sound like it is packaged by the seafood department. You can definitely call and double check to make sure.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CONNIE - Our exact vendors differ between stores and regions. The Midwest region might source from 1 vendor but our other regions could source from other vendors. You can always check with your local store to see where they source their farmed fish.

Gregory says …

Thank you for all of the information. It makes me feel even better knowing how the fish are managed. Are non-synthetic colorants allowed for farm raised or wild caught salmon? If so, what are the non-synthetic colorants that are used?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@GREGORY - Great question. 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.

Alice says …

I just had a wonderful piece of your farm-raised salmon for lunch! DELISH!!!! I will definitely buy it again and only from Whole Foods. Thanks for making is safer and much more affordable. Keep up the great work!

Deborah says …

Why are colorants of any kind necessary and what kind of non-synthetic colorants do you use? How can I know for sure that these are safe?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DEBORAH - 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.

Julie from Miami Beach says …

Thank you for this information. My toddler and I love your prepared farmed salmon and eat it many times a month. I just read an article that farmed fish is a leading cancer food. I'm glad that there are truly sustainable and clean ways to farm fish.

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