Friday, May 25, 2012

Food FYI: Yes or No to Farmed Salmon? - May 3rd, 2012
Puerto Montt, Chile - In the Pacific Northwest, where I've lived and worked for 40 years, salmon is more than a commodity. It's a regional icon and an article of faith, part of a regional doctrine that dictates: thou shalt eat wild salmon only, for farmed salmon is a blasphemy.

As a journalist with agnostic tendencies, I've never really subscribed to this belief. But I've always been a tad suspicious of farmed salmon. I suppose it has to do with vague recollections of something I read about the use of antibiotics, or to the label we frequently see on salmon packages: "color added."

So when I jetted off to Chile a few weeks ago, it was with a twinge of skepticism.

Over the following five days, I saw a lot of fish. I walked the galvanized steel catwalks around floating netpens the size of three football fields and 100 feet deep - pens that contained millions of Atlantic salmon, shadowy missiles milling beneath the surface until the automatic feeders spring to action and the surface suddenly boils with bright, silvery, hungry salmon that reminded me of an Alaska spawning run.

I toured factories that resemble surgical wards, with scores of workers draped in white gowns, masks and rubber boots, stepping through disinfectant baths between rooms. I watched men and women trimming gorgeous, red fillets into meal-size portions for freezing, then for shipment to markets around the world. I listened to workers explain what they do, and what they've learned from the last few years, when an invading virus killed millions of fish, and almost killed the industry.

At each stop, I asked questions about our perceptions of farmed salmon, about antibiotics and Omega 3 fatty acids and food coloring.

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