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Salmon; farmed

Salmon that have been reared from eggs and when hatched, kept in cages in tidal waters. Most are fed artificial food pellets, which include colouring, so the fish have the expected pink colour. The colourings used are Astaxanthin (e161j) and Canthaxanthin (161g) - the permitted EU levels of the latter were dramatically reduced in 2002 due to links with eye retina damage in humans. It is noticeable that in organically-reared farmed salmon this colour isn"t so pronounced.

The main producers of farmed salmon are Norway, followed by Chile and the UK.

Farmed fish can be visually-recognised from their wild cousins because their fins will have become at least a little damaged by the chewing of other fish in the pens. If picking a farmed fish up by the tail, it will also have a less firm body, than its wild counterpart - which will have exercised vigorously all its life. The flesh of farmed fish generally has a more exaggerated colour; unless it has been produced organically, when, although being fed a healthier diet, it might look dramatically dull.

Many experts have health worries about non-organic salmon reared in captivity. The main causes for concern are -

1. The strong chemicals often used to control sea lice, which attach themselves to the fish. One of these fungicides 'malachite green (a known carcinogen) was officially banned last year, but traces have since been found in samples of Scottish and Norwegian salmon, and others are still used.

2. Other man-made chemicals (such as PCB pesticides), which leach into the sea from the land, but are stored in the flesh of the fish - particularly because of their fatty nature.

3. The fact that to produce their food, it takes three times the weight of caught wild fish to produce one farmed fish - so effecting world fish stocks. Once converted into high-protein pellets chemical concentrations in these fish are concentrated further!

4. The environmental damage caused by salmon waste, which falls under and around cages. The seabed becomes bereft of vegetation and wild life where ever salmon farms are introduced.

5. The artificial colour included in the food mix, has been banned as a food additive - this ban somehow not extended to fish meal.

6. Fish are treated with antibiotics, some of which remain as residues, and are routinely injected with vaccines.

The World Health Organisation and scientists advising the European Commission have recommended reducing tolerable daily intakes of the pollutants by up to a 10th of present levels allowed in Britain, which could pose severe tests for the non-organic section of the Scottish farmed salmon industry. Governments have been slow to impose extra controls, as 6,500 people, as much as two-thirds of the workforce, in the Highlands and Islands are employed.

There have been rumours of ground-up chicken bones being added to fish-feed pellets, in order to cut production costs. It would be a disaster if what could be a well-managed business became another "BSE-type" scare.

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