What Are PCBs and Should I Be Concerned?

What are PCBs and Should I be Concerned?

Rich in heart-healthy omega-3s, benefits of eating salmon far outweigh any concerns. 

From time to time, we hear rumors about farmed salmon being harmful due to high levels of PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls), dioxins, heavy metals, antibiotics and other undesirables. What you may not realize is that PCBs and dioxins are environmental pollutants that are found throughout the world.

In 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of PCBs. However, even though they are no longer used, PCBs have accumulated in the environment and leached into our food supply. More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish. Many national authorities have programs in place to monitor the food supply.

Like many foods, milk and eggs for example, fish can also contain contaminants. The truth is all fish, both wild and farmed, contain traces of PCBs and dioxins, which they obtain from their diet and the natural surroundings. However, the small levels of contaminants found in Norwegian ocean-farmed salmon are not harmful to consumers. With a more controlled feed and an increasing shift to plant based-ingredients, farmed salmon today contain less of these contaminants than many types of wild salmon. In fact, since 2006, the content of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs has decreased by 67 percent (Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety, 2014).

The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety concludes that the benefits of Norwegian Salmon clearly outweigh the negligible risks presented by current levels of contaminants and other known undesirable substances in fish. And they’re not alone— according to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., DPH, the benefits of seafood consumption far outweigh any risks associated with PCBs, especially when it comes to commercial fish, since the levels are often very low compared to freshwater fish. Persistent organic pollutant (POP) levels—including dioxins and PCBs—in Norwegian Salmon are six times lower than the international accepted European limit values.

In Norway, the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) monitors around 13,000 samples yearly of farmed fish. The Norwegian authorities control the entire supply chain to ensure compliance with the EU limits. The results of various tests are public and accessible on its website. The annual program shows that all contaminants analyzed are well below EU maximum limits, and POP levels in Norwegian farmed salmon have never exceeded the international accepted European limit values. The presence of contaminants in farmed fish is significantly declining, mostly due the transition from marine ingredients to vegetable-based ingredients in salmon feed. In conclusion, farmed salmon is a healthy, safe fish that should be part of a well-balanced diet.