The Tasmanian salmon industry is facing calls for independent nutritional testing after an analysis by activist groups found far more fat in farmed fish than wild-caught salmon and figures reported by the industry.
Environmental groups concerned with the impact of salmon farming purchased two salmon fillets from a Coles supermarket, an IGA store and a Melbourne fishmonger for testing.
The results indicate that farmed salmon has a higher content of saturated and trans fats than the figures available for each of the three Tasmanian salmon companies and those known as wild salmon.
Of the three salmon farming companies, Tasal is the only one that publishes nutritional information directly on its website. She says her fish contains 16.1 grams of total fat and 3.1 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams.
Similar data was not readily available for Huon Aquaculture and Petuna but independent nutrition website MyNetDiary lists the total fat content of fresh salmon fillets per 100g as 17.9g with 3.5g of saturated fat. The total fat for salmon was 12 grams, with 3 grams saturated fat per 100 grams.
But tests on fillets bought from the supermarket or fishmonger revealed that the total fat content of tassel salmon was 28.5 grams, and 21.2 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams. Two Huon slices scored a fat content of 24.2 g and 23.7 g, while Petuna scored 16.3 g and 19.8 g.
In comparison, wild-caught salmon has a total fat of 6.3 grams and 1 gram of saturated fat per 100 grams, due to the difference in diet and the habitat in which the fish originated.
A spokesman for the Tasmanian Salmonide Producers Association dismissed the findings, citing in a statement the small sample size and changes in fat levels in the fish between seasons.
“Because of this natural variation of fish, companies use the average nutritional test results of the past three years for our Nutritional Information Panels (NIP) on our product labels,” the association said. “The data in the feed panel also indicates that all results are ‘averages’ and not absolutes.”
They also rejected calls for independent testing, saying the industry had already complied with all current regulations set by food standards in Australia and New Zealand.
“Australia has some of the strongest food safety and production systems on the planet,” they said. “Nutrition information is widely available on product packaging so that consumers can make informed decisions from trusted sources versus unknown methodology and politically motivated consumer spot testing.”
Environment Tasmania said the tests called into question the reliability of the companies’ figures and called on an independent government body such as CSIRO to conduct its own tests.
“She has to be really independent,” ET campaigner Jelly Middleton said. “And it will have to be run from the consumer’s perspective rather than salmon samples being selected and delivered by the industry.”
Consumers trust that the Australian government will give them honest information about food. When you look at a nutrition board, you expect to get the truth. It shouldn’t be up to the environment in Tasmania and others to go dig.”
Michael Skelton, professor of nutrition and cardio-metabolic health, had the opportunity to review the findings and said they raise questions that should be investigated further.
All that evidence [about salmon’s health benefits] “It is based on samples and nutritional data for what it was like before and not necessarily what it looks like now,” Skelton said.
Skelton said testing showed that the healthy omega-3 fats increased, as did fats in general. He also said saturated fat levels should be a focus because they can have an effect on cholesterol levels and are a major risk factor for heart disease.
“The implication here is that salmon farming practices have led to these changes, and I think that’s reasonable,” he said. “A comparative comparison would be the difference between grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef.”