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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

Kyung Ro says …

What do you feed on your farm raised salmon? it tastes so good with lots of oil, but I am wondering if the oil is good omega-3. Most of farm raised salmons are fed with soy and corn which consist of more of omega 6.

Nancy Stamm says …

I want to thanks you for this information and also for your high standard practices in farmed fish. I truly enjoy the flavor and texture of the Norwegian farmed salmon versus some of the wild caught. I can now feel comfortable without any concerns of pollution, etc.when serving this fish to my family.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KYUNG - 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.

April says …

What do you use to get the color if not synthetic?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@APRIL - 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.

Mark Bookbinder says …

I have been eating atlantic farm salmon from whole foods for many yrs- I recently read an article in Prevention magazine that said never eat farmed salmon. Are you familiar with the article? How do you respond? Thanks!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARK - I am not familiar with the article but you can find info about our farmed fish standards at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture.

Elle says …

I was purchasing the "chargrilled salmon" from the prepared food section at my local WF in Venice, CA. I recently discovered that it is farmed (and it isn't cheap! - 2 medium pieces for 2 people costs me close to $20). The comments on here by people who now think farmed salmon is safe is very troublesome. WF admits its farmed salmon is fed an unnatural diet such as soy, wheat and/or corn. Moreover, farmed salmon has a much higher level of PCBs. "The study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) concluded that, on average, farmed salmon have 16 times the dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in wild salmon, four times the levels found in beef, and 3.4 times the levels found in other seafood. That makes farmed salmon likely the most PCB-contaminated protein source available to U.S. consumers, according to the 17-page report by the Washington-based, non-profit environmental research and advocacy group." http://www.monitor.net/monitor/0307a/copyright/salmonpcb.html . It is scary to me how many commenters rely on clearly biased articles from a major corporation such as WF. Please do your research before you gleefully skip to WF to buy overpriced farmed fish. Read up on the dangers of PCBs and the dangers of feeding such unnatural diets. Make no mistake, WF has some great organic and natural products, but WF has demonstrated that it puts profits over people by peddling this stuff. I would rather take Omega supplements than risk my health by trying to get it from farmed salmon. It's not worth it.

Naturopathic physician says …

Who is the "third party" that is verfying your practices? Parties such as the Environmental Working Group or Monterrey Bay Aquarium would provide a better level of trust. Self certification certainly comes with some level of doubt on the consumers side. I agree that having to add any colorant, even non-synthtic ones, sounds odd. Like healthy skin color in humans, the color of the fish meat signifies its state of health. Adding colorant implies that the composition of the meat is not the same as a wild, healthy fish. Salmon quality, in particular, can be judged somewhat by color. So, while I love that there are efforts being made in delivering healthy farmed fish, I am not convinced that what you are selling is a nutritional equivalent to wild. That said, I have bought some of your cod. While not perfect in your execution of "sustainably farmed" I can accept the comprimise for now. For those of us near clean wild fish, that is best. For those not near clean waters, what you offer is as good as it gets for now.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@NATURPATHIC PHYSICIAN - We do not audit the farms ourselves, we use third parties. You can find detailed info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture.

Matthew says …

Your farmed salmon is farmed at sea, which means it passes viruses off to wild fish that pass by. Please stop selling farmed salmon or only get it from land based farms.

swansoul68 says …

The information in "The Truth About Farmed Salmon.." was enlightening. A remaining question: what is in salmon feed--what exactly are farmed salmon fed? Do "responsibly farmed" salmon receive feed that is appreciably different from non-responsibly farmed salmon? Different from wild salmon?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SWANSOUL68 - Farmed fish feed will differ from what fish are eating in the wild. The type of feed will differ between vendors for farmed fish. Since our vendors differ between stores, you can always check with your local store to have them check with their specific vendor. We do not allow the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian by-products in feed. I cannot speak on behalf of the feed for other farmed fish.

Daniel says …

Reading all of these comments just made me question if anyone knows anything about whole foods. Whole foods wants to deliver the best products available, but also have to consider the wild salmon population and sustain the population. I understand the feed may seem a little unnatural, however that is tiny sacrifice to sustain the fish population and sustain ecosystems, by eating farm raised salmon.

Tracy says …

And what about when the farmed salmon escape the pens and outcompete indigenous fish populations for resources?!?! I will never buy your farmed salmon and continue to spread the word about your poor seafood choices.

Debbie Galanif says …

Is your farmed salmon fed corn? How much omega 3 is in a serving of farmed salmon?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DEBBIE - The feed will differ between vendors, you can check with your local store to see what their vendor uses for their farmed fish.

David Bacc says …

I have purchased Whole Foods Atlantic salmon for years. I found it better than wild salmon, so smooth and buttery. The salmon came from Scotland, and I converted several of my family members to Whole Foods because of the quality. However, the last several purchases were noticably inferior. I spoke to the fishmonger and he told me they switched to a Norwegian supplier because they were more reliable. I stopped buying the salmon because it is no better than Harris Teeter

monica diaz says …

I will like to by fresh wild salmon,

DeeJay says …

Here is additional information that tags onto this conversation about farmed salmon. According to the following article on the internet, Fjardalax, the producer of Artic Salmon, is the main player at the moment in Iceland and it exports 70% of production to the US, mainly to retailer Whole Foods. (htttp://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/08/07/icelands-natural-conditions-seen-as-major-competitive-advantage-for-salmon-farming/Fjardalax). Fjardalax lists the salmon feed on its website (http://www.arcticsalmon.is/). Fjardalax states that it uses Eco feed from Havsbrun Feed Mill in the Faroe Islands. This feed contains fish meal and fish oil from sustainable sources in the North Atlantic, wheat, soy, maize, rapeseed, and pre-mixed vitamins. Raw materials used in the Eco feed are GMO-free in compliance with EU industry standards for fish feed products. Hope this information helps answer some of the questions that were posed in the previous posts.

Alex L says …

Ive read that although the salmon themselves may not be genetically modified, they may be fed certain GM yeasts that produce more omega-3 fatty acids. This is to ensure that feeder fish populations dont become more depleted than they already are. Are your salmon fed any GM food, even if the salmon arent themselves modified?

nina says …

Thank you for providing healthy products. I was concerned that the feed had GMO ingredients so I normally stayed away from farm raised. Thank you

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ALEX & @NINA - We have announced a deadline of 2018 to label all products in our stores whether they contain GMOs. Until then, if you're looking to avoid GMOs in the seafood department you can do so even now by choosing wild-caught seafood or farmed molluscs, such as clams, oysters and mussels, which do not receive any supplemental feed on the farm. Although all certified organic products prohibit the use of GMOs, currently the United States does not have an approved organic certification program for seafood in place.

Valentine says …

Sorry, but it seems clear that many of the comments from the public that support your company's assertions are not spontaneous statements from objective parties. Where you have chosen to give replies, they are sometimes selective or incomplete. This is an important issue that deserves to be discussed with facts and sound science.

Nancy Knupfer says …

I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHERE i can purchase Norwegian salmon in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, or online. Please advise. Takk for det!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@NANCY - Most of our store should carry an option but the vendors will differ. It's best to check with your local store directly to see what they have in stock. You can search for a store in your area at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.

michael roth says …

Where are the salmon farms? Are the farms in Florida or is the salmon imported and then put on the farm

Carol says …

Yes, tell us what you feed your salmon? I tried asking a Whole Foods employee before I bought, and he explained what this article explained, but couldn't answer what the salmon are fed. And, why on earth would you color artificially?! Who wants to eat THAT? I don't get that. If a food isn't supposed to be a certain color, why would you color it artificially? For sales?! C'mon WF, give your clientele more credit than that!

Lindsey shipman says …

Colorants only from non-synthetic sources are used. What are the colorants for? Where are they used and why? What side effects do they have on the fish, or us?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MICHAEL - The locations will differ between vendors. The location should be listed on the signage at the store or you can check with a Seafood team member for more details.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CAROL & @LINDSEY - Our standards for farmed fish prohibit certain ingredients from being used in feed, such as poultry meal, and require that fish meal and oil is sourced responsibly. We also prohibit antibiotics, parasiticides, and hormones from being included in feed. The ingredients used in feed will vary from farm to farm and species to species depending upon the nutritional requirements of the species and the availability of ingredients. Feed includes sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Feed for farmed fish may include, as an example, fish meal, fish oil, vegetable oil, soybean meal, wheat flour, rice bran, and corn. 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 such as 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.

Corinne Murphy says …

Hi, I recently read an article on EWG about how harmful farm raised salmon can be. It said that we should only eat it once a month because of the high levels of PCB's. Can you confirm if this is true for Whole Foods farmed salmon? I shop in Whole Foods almost every day and have been a loyal customer for about 1o years. I purchase this salmon once a week but I am now concerned after reading the EWG article on farm raised salmon and the high levels of cancer causing PCB's it has. Any information you can provide to put my mind at ease would be appreciated. Corinne Murphy

Kathleen Fisher says …

Very nice! Another thing I would really like to know is, in what country is this fish processed?

Peter Jay Brown says …

As a leading activist for the oceans I am very upset to see you endorsing farmed salmon. Other than Salmon farms wiping out wild salmon in Scotland, Norway, etc., we have tested farmed fish and the contaminates range from PCBs to the ISI virus. Fish Farming is not sustainable as we are butchering other fish stocks for food and that food is running out. In the very near future the GMO salmon will be fed by GMO crops. Sound healthy? Farmed fish is not an answer for any food or ecological issues. In the next year we will be informing the public to the truth with the science to back it up. Companies like Whole Foods which promote health will be left explaining why they endorsed such anti environmental policies which in fact will endanger the health of their customers. I would be happy to meet and discuss this issue with individuals at Whole Foods so that your company remains on the forefront of healthy food. I would be happy to supply you with information. Thank you Peter Brown

Barbara Gottlieb says …

What are farm raised salmon given to add color.....specific name of it? what makes it natural? Thanks

jaya says …

Why have a Colorant AT ALL? I do not need my fish to look pretty, it need it to be nutritious. What exactly is the colorant used? What is the exact nature of the feed you use? Its is easy to sound reassuring when you are being vague, in other words.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@BARBARA & @JAYA - 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.

Kumar says …

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Seafood Watch has putted this species of salmon (salmo salar) in Red list, specially for imported from Norway and Scotland unless it is from recirculated aquaculture. Is your salmon from recirculated aquaculture? please make clear to costumers. Otherwise, stop selling this species. US fish and wildlife services has also listed this species as endangered.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KUMAR - We do not sell any red rated seafood in our stores and follow the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council for guidance.

michelle says …

What is in the fish pellets fed to the salmon?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MICHELLE - The exact type of feed will differ between vendors, however, we do not allow the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian by-products in feed. Check with your local store to find out what exactly the vendor uses for feed.

Dicky Sykes says …

I still love you Whole Foods. The older I get I am more into the quality of my food than quantity, thanks for the Salmon education.

G ebanks says …

In the absence of my preferred choice of fish being caught wild, I am prepared to accept that your product badge / seal informs the consumer that any product carrying this seal represents good wholesome nutritious food . I have read so many bad reports about how extremely harmful farmed fish, especially salmon is to general health, with claims that it can even lead to cancer in people consuming such food as little as once a week. Very very alarming and disturbing news. I will only by farmed seafood products if the item carries your seal. I noticed tesco claim on some of their products that it is responsibly farmed ,but these products do not carry your specific seal. What advice can you give me ? Many thanks .

Judy says …

Do you sell wild salmon as well

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JUDY - Most of our stores should have a wild option as well, check with your local store for details.

Dana says …

Hello. I'm pregnant and just ate the farmed raised frozen salmon you import from Norway. I want to know what are the levels of PCB and dioxin in the farms from which you buy your salmon.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DANA - 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.

Peggy Harris says …

I have tried all kinds of salmon and Whole Foods farmed salmon is the best that I have had. I trust that it is responsibly farmed.

mike says …

What exactly are the farmed salmon from Norway fed? What do they use to make salmon pink? Synthetic astaxanthin? thanks, mike

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MIKE - Farmed fish feed will vary between vendors. Check with your local store to see if they can check with their vendor. Farmers purchase feed that has carotenoid pigment added to it. Our Quality Standards require that only non-synthetic sources of carotenoid pigment can be used.

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