The TP Scoop: Farmed vs Wild Seafood

Apr 18, 2023
Unfortunately, raw fish is one of the few examples where a scan on Trash Panda may not give you the full story. There are questions of farmed vs. wild caught, chemical pollutants and antibiotic use, GMO and organic seafood, and more. So this week, we’re outlining everything to consider when purchasing seafood, and debunking what many of the confusing labels you may see mean.
Looking for some easy to grab options? Check out our shopping list of recommended seafood in the Trash Panda App.

What is Farmed Seafood?

Farmed seafood, or aquaculture, may be defined as the “human cultivation of organisms in water” that is closer to stock raising than it is hunting. There are several kinds of fish that are farm raised around the world but some of the most common aqua-cultured species are salmon, tilapia, catfish, trout, and carp.

Farmed vs. Wild Caught Seafood

There is frequent discussion on the risks of farmed seafood and how it differs from wild caught. It is true that farmed seafood may have certain risks compared to wild caught seafood, but the specific risks can vary depending on the type of fish and the farming methods used.
Contamination - In the aquaculture production process, there is an increased risk of contamination. PCB is a type of persistent organic pollutant that has been linked to a variety of diseases and may even increase the risk of stroke for women. PCB levels have been shown to be 16 times higher in farmed fish than wild fish, but this risk depends on factors like farm location and feed used.
Nutritional value - because the feed used in fish farms may not be optimally balanced, the nutritional value of the seafood may be impacted. For example, some studies have suggested that farmed seafood may have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids compared to wild caught seafood.
Antibiotic use - though still below approved FDA tolerance levels, there is uncertainty about antibiotic use in aquaculture. These substances are generally considered safe in small quantities, but it is unclear how much antibiotic treatment occurs in fish farms and what the long term effects of consuming these additives regularly are.
It is important to note that not all farmed seafood have these nutritional risks. Some fish species and farming methods are considered more sustainable and safer than others, and are dependent on a variety of factors. We recommend looking for certification labels such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) to help identify seafood that has been responsibly farmed to minimize these risks.

What Does it Mean for Seafood to Be Organic?

While you may see organic on seafood labels, the USDA does not currently certify organic aquaculture production - leading to confusion in the grocery aisles. Some markets may carry seafood with organic labels from foreign countries, despite the USDA having no process for certifying aqua-cultured seafood as organic. Again, we recommend looking for the ASC, BAP, or Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label when buying seafood.

What is GE Seafood?

As if these confusing labeling issues were not a problem enough, there seems to be a realistic future of genetically engineered (GE) seafood making its way into the grocery market. There are several types of genetically modified fish that have been developed and are currently being researched, but none are currently available. In 2015, the FDA approved the GE Atlantic Salmon AquAdvantage - the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption in the United States!
The question of whether or not to avoid genetically modified seafood is complex, depending on a variety of factors. There are environmental concerns such as escaped fish, and health concerns. While the FDA has determined some GE fish to be safe for consumption, some still have concerns about the potential long-term health effects of these products. Ultimately, this is a personal choice depending on your own values or concerns.

Sustainability of Seafood?

Farmed seafood is seen as a more sustainable alternative to other farmed meats, with a promising future. While it’s true that aquaculture can have a smaller carbon footprint than other kinds of meat production, there are other environmental risks to consider; such as the use of  chemicals in aquaculture, the risk of escaped salmon, and disruptions in other aquatic ecosystems. Overall, it is important to consider the specific practices used and to educate ourselves in order to make the most sustainable choice we can.
Staying educated is our top priority when it comes to shopping the grocery aisles. Download Trash Panda to help identify any added ingredients in packaged seafood products like vegetable oils, added flavors and colors, or sugars. Happy scanning!
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