Media watch: Target’s big move

There was no shortage of seafood industry coverage in the mainstream media over the past two weeks, mostly due to the news that the United States’ second largest discount retailer had banned farmed salmon from its shelves.

Media outlets across the nation, including the San Francisco ChronicleBaltimore SunOregonianLA Times and just about every print and TV media source in Alaska covered Target’s move. Environmental groups like Greenpeace and restaurants including Oceanaire applauded the decision in blogs.

Blogger, nutritionist and personal trainer Lindsey Mathes was compelled to share the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in a recent column in South Carolina’s Gaston Gazette. But with the good comes the bad: she warned readers of the health dangers associate with farmed seafood.

“Although, you need to know that, unless you buy fish raised in the wild, all other fish, considered ‘farm-raised,’ contain contaminants such as mercury, PCBs and dioxins.”

Someone needs to tell Mathes and her readers that wild fish most certainly runs the risk of containing both methylmercury and PCBs. But studies show that contaminant levels in both wild and farmed fish are so low that they do not pose a health risk to humans.

Target’s announcement brought more discussion of the farmed vs. wild debate, as well as seafood sustainability.

Food writer and ABC news correspondent Steve Dolinsky attended the annual Seafood Summit in Paris this week to figure out the meaning of “sustainable seafood.” His “reporter’s notebook” gave the industry insight from a laymen’s point of view into the complexity of how seafood achieves a sustainable label.

“Now I see why Target pulled the plug on farmed salmon. It’s not that all of the salmon raised in open net pens is bad — although there has been evidence here showing that there are plenty of issues with farm-raised fish.

“So now I’m thinking, o.k. so wild fish is probably the best way to go, at least when it comes to buying sustainably-raised product. But then someone shoves a flyer in my hands, telling me that the wild sockeye salmon from Canada’s Fraser River has been endangered for years, and that the Marine Stewardship Council is planning to certify the fishery there as sustainable anyway. I’m still not convinced farm-raised salmon is all that good for the environment. What I have learned here is that we, as consumers — and food professionals — need to be diligent and continue asking questions about the sources of our food. Who knew that shopping for fish could be so political?”

Numerous media outlets picked up on a study that found omega-3s slow the biological aging process. However, the majority of news sources that ran the story gave it a headline that could make readers think fish oil is the new botox. boasted “Omega-3 fish-oil supplements prevent faster aging."

North Carolina’s Huliq News called fish oil “the long lost fountain of youth,” while the real issue is that omega-3s aid the recovery of heart disease patients. Sources like these need to be careful — while headlines such as those can get people’s attention, they may lose them once they realize it’s an article about health benefits and not beauty treatments.

A few other news outlets, including San Diego’s North County Times, Reuters and Science Daily, delved deeper into the study. Instead of referring to the “anti-aging benefits,” Science News said: “Robust omega-3 levels protect the ends of chromosomes from damage, which suggest a benefit against age-related diseases.” The article also highlighted another recent study on the use of omega-3s in sepsis patients.

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