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We live in a day and age where we cannot always trust where our food comes from. It makes going out to restaurants difficult, enjoying food at a friend’s worrisome, and shopping at the grocery store time-consuming. We try to do as much research as possible. We try to buy organic, to buy wild caught. We try to follow the plethora of terms that differentiate a food from good and bad. But it can be hard to keep up.

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We have long known the sad truth that not all food is created equal, but to what extent? Nicolas Daniel’s documentary Fillet-Oh-Fish reviews the fish industry with a critical eye, providing footage from fish farms and factories around the world that will take away your appetite for consuming the cheapest fish on offer at the store.

Gone are the days were we can call any fish “healthy”; large-scale food production has intervened and robbed us of that right. Today’s fisheries must deal with severe problems, like overfishing, chemical pollution, and genetic mutation from exposure to toxins. Essentially, the flesh of the fish many of us consume is a “deadly chemical cocktail,” according to the producers of the film. The fish business continues to boom nonetheless, as modern fishing techniques are kept from public sight as much as possible.

The Truth About Aquaculture

It’s promoted as being a sustainable solution to overfishing, but fish farms actually cause more problems than they solve, with little difference in environmental pollution between land-based feedlots and water-based ones.

In the documentary, Kurt Oddekalv, who is a respected Norwegian environmental activist, exposes how salmon farming creates one of the most toxic foods in the world. For instance, underneath the salmon farms across the Norwegian fjords, there’s a layer of waste that reaches 15 meters high—filled with bacteria, drugs, and pesticides. But because the farms are located in open water, the pollution from them isn’t contained. Furthermore, the salmon farms can hold upwards of 2 million salmon in small spaces, and these crowded environments create disease amongst the salmon, including sea lice, Pancreas Disease, and Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus. To keep these diseases from occurring, dangerous pesticides must be used.

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Salmon, typically thought of as a healthy food to consume on a regular basis, may not, after all, be your best choice if you’re opting for the farm-raised varietal. In fact, farmed salmon is five times more toxic than any other food product tested.

Genetic Mutations

As if diseases and harmful pesticides weren’t enough, we have plenty more disturbing realities to contend with. The pesticides used affect the fish’s DNA, resulting in genetic mutations. Fifty percent of farmed cod, for instance, are deformed. And female cod from farms often escape their confines and mate with wild cod. Farmed salmon suffer mutations as well, including flesh that is unnaturally brittle and which breaks when bent. Farmed salmon that migrate up rivers to breed, moreover, undermine the population’s genetic material and weaken wild salmon stocks.

The Nutritional Content

Another way to understand just how unhealthy one of the healthiest foods on the planet can be is to get acquainted with the nutritional content. Wild salmon has about 5 to 7 percent fat, but farmed salmon has anywhere from 14.5 to 34 percent. And most of the readily available fat is ridden with toxins.

Research has found, despite the common assumption that toxic exposure is the result of pesticides and antibiotics, that it is the dry pellet feed which does the most damage. The feed is filled with pollutants like dioxins, PCBs, and many drugs and chemicals. In one Norwegian fish pellet plant, the main ingredient was revealed to be eel and other fatty fish from the Baltic Sea, a body of water that is highly polluted due to such contributing factors as surrounding industrialized countries dumping their toxic waste into this closed body of water.

And it doesn’t stop there. The pellets on their own are incredibly bad thanks to the manufacturing process, which involves cooking the fatty fish first, resulting in protein meal and oil. The oil has high levels of dioxins and PCBs, while the protein powder adds more toxicity to the end product, as the “antioxidant” ethoxyquin is added, which, according to the filmmaker, is one of the best kept secrets of the fish food industry. It was originally developed by Monsanto in the 1950s as a pesticide. And the effect it has on human health has never been established.

Are You Just Eating Fish Waste?

It looks like fish. It tastes like fish. It must be fish, right? It’s important to choose the right type of fish, or you might simply be eating fish waste. This film highlights how fish waste has become a “highly valued commodity” used in processed foods. No part of the fish goes to waste anymore. Fish skins are used in the cosmetic industry, while fish waste is ground up into a pulp and used in prepared meals and pet food. Food manufactures don’t even have to tell you if their products contain fish pulp instead of real fish fillet meat.

Want to make sure you know what’s in your food? If the product’s list of ingredients don’t specifically say that it’s made with fillet of fish, then it’s probably fish waste pulp.

We are becoming victims of fish fraud, with investigations showing that 1 in 3 fish labels are actually false or misleading, with some inexpensive fish being labeled as expensive ones and farmed fish being passed off as wild. And, while it’s a bit trickier, sometimes fillets of fish are passed off as another species.

If You Love Fish, Then It’s Time To Get To Know Your Best Seafood Options

It’s sad to think one of our favorite, healthiest foods is bad for us. While its evident that fish farms are not a viable solution to overfishing, and are even making matters worse, destroying the marine ecosystem and infecting us with harmful toxins, even the wild caught kind is too contaminated to eat regularly, since most major waterways are contaminated with mercury, heavy metals, and chemicals like dioxins, PCBs, and more.

So, as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to stick with authentic, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, whose nutritional benefits may outweigh potential contamination. The risk of sockeye accumulating high amounts of toxins is lower because its life cycle is only about three years. And bioaccumulation of toxins is reduced since the fish don’t feed on other contaminated fish. Also, Alaskan salmon is not allowed to be farmed, so it’s always wild-caught.

Other smaller fish with short life cycles like sardines and anchovies are better alternatives, too, since they have lower contamination risk and higher nutritional value.

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