How healthy is farmed salmon and what is ethoxyquin?

Wild-caught vs. Farmed Salmon – What’s The Better Choice?

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Salmon is known as a healthy food, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. What you may not have known is that most Atlantic farmed salmon is contaminated with toxic chemicals.  

Manufacturers use such chemicals as ethoxyquin (EQ), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) to preserve fish food.

What is Ethoxyquin?

Ethoxyquin is a synthetic antioxidant that manufacturers add to fish food for preservation. In other words, it prevents the fat in the fish food from becoming rancid.

The European Union has outlawed the use of ethoxyquin as a pesticide. Additionally, the EU has established strict limits for vegetables, fruits, nuts, and meat. However, there are no limits for ethoxyquin in fish.

The problem is that measurable amounts of the chemicals in fish food remain in the fish we eat. As a result, those chemicals transfer into the human body. In a study from 2010, scientists determined that consuming 300 g of commercially farmed salmon would contribute at most 15% of the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of ethoxyquin for a 60 kg adult.

Other chemicals

While the contamination of a 300 g portion of Atlantic salmon with ethoxyquin would not exceed a contribution of 15% of the ADI, BHT, on the other hand, would contribute up to 75% of the ADI.

Both the United States and the European Union allow the use of small amounts of BHT as a food additive. There doesn’t seem to be any regulation of its use in fishmeal that I could find. Butylated hydroxyanisole, also known as food additive E320, is a newer antioxidant, that has started replacing BHT.

The National Institute of Health (NIH), states that there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity for BHA in animals. In other words, it is likely to cause cancer. For humans, there is not enough data available.

What’s the issue with synthetic antioxidants?

Chemicals such as EQ, BHT, and BHA are toxic, and while levels for the acceptable daily intake have been established, there are no long-term studies available that have determined the effects of those chemicals on the human body.

The German toxicologist Prof. Daniel Dietrich is very clear about that he does not want to have any of those chemicals in his body (original interview in German). The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reviewed ethoxyquin in 2015 and determined that there is a lack of data to assess the safety of this chemical as a feed additive or its safety for consumers and the environment.

However, EFSA indicated that one of its metabolites, ethoxyquin quinone imine, could be possibly genotoxic, and p-phenetidine, an impurity that could be present from the manufacturing process, could be potentially mutagenic. That means ethoxyquin and its by-products could potentially damage your DNA.

What has the Norwegian fish industry to say?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Norwegian National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) claims that the levels of ethoxyquin in the fish feed are safe for humans. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t know if that is true, due to the lack of long-term studies.

What I do know is that I prefer to err on the side of caution and not eat chemicals that have been forbidden to be used as pesticides and that I can’t pronounce.