NZ Salmon not as natural as you think?

A Consumer New Zealand investigation shows farmed salmon, which is sold as fresh and smoked products in supermarkets, bears little resemblance to some of the “natural” claims made about its production.

King Salmon, which produces more than half of all farmed salmon from its operations in the Marlborough Sounds, claims “the feed replicates the natural diet of wild salmon”. However, Consumer NZ says that a major part of the fish’s diet is abattoir by-products – offcuts from poultry processing including feathermeal, as well as bloodmeal from cattle, pigs and sheep. Only a small proportion of farmed salmon’s diet comes from marine sources.

Skretting Australia produces the pellets fed at most salmon farms here. It says just under 10 percent of the feed is fishmeal. Fish oil comprises seven percent – it has to be added to the pellets because it’s the main source of omega-3 for farmed salmon. Wild fish derive it from the algae and other marine plants found in the fish they eat.

Consumer NZ CEO Sue Chetwin said farmed salmon’s artificial habitat also meant its feed had to be supplemented with astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment, to give the fish their distinctive pink flesh. In the wild, salmon get their pink glow from eating krill and other crustaceans.

King Salmon has recently been certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance, a trade-based group, which certifies sustainable choices.

Chetwin said the industry was keen to promote itself as a healthy, sustainable choice, but despite the rosy public relations, this was intensive farming which sat at odds with the “natural” claims made for products in store.

Consumer also tested the omega-3 levels in five smoked salmon products. Salmon is regarded as a good source of omega-3. However, testing found some products that overstated their omega 3 content – one by three times the amount.

Food manufacturers are allowed to show average values so small variations are expected. However, one product claimed more than triple the omega-3 indicated by the lab test.

Aoraki Smokehouse Cold Smoked Salmon (50g) claimed it contained 8.07g of omega-3 per 100g. Testing of a sample of this product indicated 2.2g per 100g. The company told Consumer it was aware the claim was incorrect and had changed its packaging.

Countdown’s Signature Range Smoked Salmon Slices (50g) stated an omega-3 level of 3.2g per 100g. Testing for Consumer indicated 1.4g of omega-3 per 100g. Countdown withdrew its Signature Range smoked salmon after being notified of the results, stating this level of variation wasn’t acceptable. It expects to have correctly labelled product back in store in November.

Other products tested included Regal Smoked Salmon Cold Smoked Slices (100g), Southern Ocean Smoked Pieces (100g) and Primesmoke Smoked Salmon Slices (50g).

Testing of a sample of Regal salmon indicated 1.8g of omega-3 per 100g; testing of the Southern Ocean salmon indicated 2.4g per 100g. Both products, which are produced by King Salmon, stated an omega-3 content of 3g. The company said the levels stated on its packaging were based on historic test data compiled from four independent lab tests. It is retesting and will amend packaging if warranted by the results.

Testing of the Primesmoke salmon found 1.8g of omega-3 per 100g, compared with a label claim of 1.4g.