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Food for thought

When I learned most of our farmed salmon was fed a diet containing abattoir by-products – off-cuts from poultry processing and bloodmeal from cattle, pigs and sheep – I blanched. When I further discovered the precious omega-3 we get from salmon is actually fed to farmed salmon via fish oil in pellets, I double blanched.

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But then I got to thinking. How much do we really know about any of the farmed meat we eat? How often do we think about the casings on our sausages and where those come from? Or what processes occur to fatten up beef and sheep?

This issue takes a serious look at the green claims our farmed salmon industry makes and whether the fish on our supermarket shelves lives up to these claims. King Salmon, which produces 55 percent of the farmed salmon we eat claims on its website: "The feed replicates the natural diet of wild salmon..." It talks about the salmon being raised in the "remote, pristine, unpolluted seawaters of the Marlborough Sounds." It also claims its "green policy" promotes the company to "near organic status" - whatever the latter might possibly mean.

King Salmon has been certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance, a trade–based group. But that doesn't wash with Forest and Bird. Its Best Fish Guide doesn't recommend salmon reared in coastal areas (such as King Salmon). It does give the green light to freshwater farms. There are several small freshwater salmon farms in the South Island.

Environmental pressures (depleting marine resource) and rising prices for fishmeal and fish oil have forced the salmon farming industry to look to alternatives for feeding the fish – now just 10 percent of their feed is fishmeal derived mainly from Peruvian anchovies. Their habitat also means their feed has to be supplemented with astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment, to give the flesh its distinctive pink colour. Wild salmon get the colouring from eating krill and other crustacean.

Salmon farming here has not been plagued by diseases which have devastated overseas production. But it is not problem-free. Skeletal deformities in farmed salmon are an issue. The Ministry for Primary Industries has given $600,000 to King Salmon and others in the Salmon Improvement Group to investigate why these deformities occur.

Our investigation provides plenty of food for thought.

About the author:

Sue Chetwin has been our Chief Executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday. She says there are strong parallels between consumer advocacy and journalism.

Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, an alternate on the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.