Shrimp and the Pinkish Hue of Salmon

Was having a discussion with a coworker today about health concerns surrounding Salmon harvested from the wild versus those raised on fish farms.

Her contention was that the farm raised variety are bad for you because of all the artificial color they are injected with in order to obtain that pinkish hue we relate to salmon. According to her, farm raised salmon are fed something other than their normal diet of shrimp and therefore don’t turn pink. Wild salmon, you see, obtain their pink color from all of that yummy red shrimp they eat.

My reply: But shrimp aren’t red.

Her: Yes they are…when they’re cooked.

Me: Riiiiiiiiiiiight, but…

Now I realize that shrimp and lobster and the like turn red when cooked because of some chemical or something and blah, blah, blah…

But, does the ingestion of raw shrimp, and therefore said chemical, actually contribute to the color of the ingestor’s delicious insides?


Shrimp (and lobster and such) contain pigments which are naturally red. IIRC, these pigments are normally bound to protines which change their appearance - from red to the blue/green in obsters, for examble. Cooking them breaks down the protein and lets the pigment’s normal coloration show through. Presumably the process of being digested and metabolized has a similar effect when the salmon eats shrimp.

Also, IIRC, some shrimp are naturally red.

Farm-raised salmon aren’t injected to give them the reddish hue. The red pigment is mixed in with their food, and absorbed just as if they were getting it from shrimp. Wild salmon are better for you, and the environment, than farm-raised ones, but the color itself has little to do with that.

Cite, please!

FDA Approval of the Safe Use of Haematococcus Algae Meal as a Color Additive in the Feed of Salmond fish to Enhance the Color of Their Flesh

5 minutes on google should give you more cites than you could ever want on the environmental issues with farm-raised salmon versus well-managed wild stocks, and the inferiority of farm-raised salmon in omega 3 levels and heavy metal/pcb contamination.

Here’s a few:

And here’s a press release about a lawsuit dealing with the chemicals fed to fawm-raised salmon to make their flesh pink:

Not to mention the insult to your taste buds.

Incidentally, flamingos are only pink because of the shrimp in their diet. Captive flamingos (like, in the zoo) lose their coloring unless they Flamingo Chow is doctored.

Farm raised salmon?!!?


Do shrimp lovers have pinker flesh than the normal human:? Hard to tell we’re all red meat.

Oh boy people, please do some real research before posting such strong and false assumptions.

AndrewL’s first three references are all American Environmental news pages (not scientific journals), and coincidentally are all advertising “wild Alaskan” and to some extent Californian salmon. Know why they want to sell wild Alaskans? It’s not really bad… The Alaskans do salmon ranching - that is they release millions of fish into the area from hatcheries, and then net them out in huge commercial fisheries. It’s very succesful as opposed to most other wild salmon fisheries… the thing they don’t mention is that the Alaskan Gyre is where most wild salmon from the entire West coast migrate to and stay for a good portion of their lives, and get fished out in Alaska before they can return to be commercially fished again by their country/state/province of origin. I’m not knocking the Alaskans really - they’ve got a good and rather rare thing going for themselves so of course they advertise it. Just be careful not to take the “complete wonderfulness” of wild Alaskan salmon all in hook line and sinker; especially since it’s really “wild and/or government hatchery hatched Alaskan, Californian, British Columbian, Russian, and Japanese salmon” that’s caught there.

Next all the sources talk about farmed salmon as though it all came from one place and was all atlantic salmon. Atlantic, Chinook, Coho, and even rainbow aka steelhead are all farmed on both coasts of both the US and Canada, in South America, and especially Northern Europe; and a lot of it goes to the States - especially from Chile. Wonder why they don’t talk about salmon from these places? Heh, because there have been no studies done… at least none that show anything of concern. In fact all these sources are basing their entire stance on the toxicity of these fish on one or perhaps two completely worthless and seriously flawed studies done simply as preliminary investigations. Unfortunately the media jumped all over them and are flashing the results everywhere they can, so it’s no surprise that one can find tons of websites saying the same thing. Where’s the links to the actualy studies themselves anyways??? Oh yeah, scare mongerers don’t draw attention to the fact that the studies are statistcally meaningless.:rolleyes:

Your cites even mention this… the title of cite #3 :First-Ever U.S. Tests of Farmed Salmon…. Then you read the first paragraph where they say “7/10 salmon had high PCBs”. Do a little research and you’ll find they mean that literally. They went out to some local grocery stores and bought 10 fish to test. And they’re trying to draw conclusions about the entire industry. There was a similar study done in BC a few years back, with similar numbers of fish tested. The scientist who did the reserach got really pissed at the un-named environmental group that spilled the beans and I saw that group issue an apology on TV for making that little pilot project out to be more than it really was without permission. All the hype is based on a few examples of bad science, plain and simple.

The last cite talks about a lawsuit against three grocery chains for mislabeling their products - which has exactly nothing to do with the salmon being any more unsafe to eat than wild.

The chemicals that are mixed in with salmon pellets, astaxanthin and canthaxanthin, are pretty much harmless; they are the same compounds that give wild salmon food it’s color - that’s why they are used. And on top of that, grey coloured salmon has exactly the same nutritive values as red salmon. It’s all just giving the people what they want which is bright orange meat (even though the colour means nothing nutrition-wise).

Also I’m not sure of one claim in that last cite… farmed fish are 200% higher in saturated fat than wild pink or chum salmon? AFAIK salmon don’t have saturated fat - it solidifies at low temperatures (like the 5C in the net pens). That’s the whole reason you eat fish (fatwise), for the oily fats rather than the solid saturated fats coming from warm-blooded animals. And of course they compare farmed fish to chum and pink salmon, the two least valuable species to the industry since they are naturally low in oils and taste. These are the fish that sit in the boat’s hold for weeks and get sent to the canners. To compare fat levels between two different species of fish in an effort to prove that how one is raised is unhealthy is just silly. Guess what: if you compare fat levels between wild chum salmon and wild sockeye salmon (the most sought after and expensive species), you’ll probably get similar results.

Now I’m not saying farmed salmon is better than wild at all. What I’m saying is that there is no conclusive or even statistically valid evidence that either is better than the other. From what I’ve seen, you should consider the two as equals as far as nutrition goes until we get some proper evidence to base a decision on. Here’s a cite that goes through some facts and myths about salmon farming: Nutrition page

I love shrimp but I usually don’t eat the shells. Isn’t that where the pigments are?

Incidentally, flamingos are only pink because of the shrimp in their diet. Captive flamingos (like, in the zoo) lose their coloring unless they Flamingo Chow is doctored.

Actually, the pink color can come from algae as well as animal sources of food. while some flamingos eat small shrimp, crustacea and insects, others have much finer strainers on their bill’s feeding apparatus and specialize in eating algae.

I have bought some farm raised trout that had meat that looked just like salmon.

They told me it is due to the high protein shrimp diet.

It tasted great to me and most of the fish I eat is caught by me - so I know fresh wild fish.

Of course it is possible that somebody released that wahoo 30 miles off shore just before I leaned into it

Well, Mr. Snarky, seeing that you’ve been here a while, you should know that if you make the claim, thenyou provide the cites.

mmmiiikkkeee has responded to your post, but most of your links go to highly biased sites. Does the FDA, UN, AMA, Boston Medical Journal, the Lancet or any such place support your claims? If not, then your first post is not for this forum, but rather GD, the Pit or even MPSYouMS.

Think of it this way: farmed salmon are the new battery raised chickens. As with all livestock, there’s a great difference between intensively and extensively reared salmon. I’m not all that familiar with salmon farming across the pond, so I’m limiting my discussion to farms that rear Atlantic Salmon over on this side of the ocean.

However, salmon farming has suffered the same problems as agriculture in Europe at large. At first, it was highly profitable as salmon was perceived as a luxury good, particularly in its smoked form. But as the number of salmon farms grew, prices fell. This has led to some very intensive salmon farming, in the same way as we have intensive raising of chickens, pigs, etc. The reared salmon are generally kept in sea cages, which are simply massive cages that float off the shore and that are jam-packed full of salmon. Now this sort of promiscuity leads to disease if left unchecked, so the fish’s feed is laced with a whole cocktail of medication, including vast amounts of antibiotics. Once again, this is no different to intensive chicken farming, and in same way, there isn’t much evidence that this is particularly harmful to humans.

But here’s where the difference lies: the sea cages are right in the middle of the wild Atlantic salmon’s migratory routes. The reared salmon carry huge amounts of parasites (particularly sea lice) but can resist them because they’re pumped up to the eyeballs with drugs. So sea cages contain a much higher concentration of the things that the open ocean, and when wild salmon pass by, they’re infested. The sea cages are also breeding grounds for disease, and once again the wild salmon are not inocculated against this sort of assault. So the presence of the salmon farms adversely affects populations of wild Atlantic salmon, and God knows the things have enough trouble as it is thanks to the combined efforts of drift-netting and cutting off routes to their spawning grounds thanks to dams and pollution in rivers.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is so much farmed salmon around that it’s unprofitable unless produced in huge quantities. As for the end product, it can contain up to 70% more saturated fats than a wild salmon, as the fish are fed on high-protein pellets rather and are pretty much stationary. There isn’t all that much wrong with the taste though, and the food is indeed laced with carotene pigments to make the flesh pink, as this is what the consumer expects. If you buy wild salmon from the Baltic where there are low densities of crustaceans such as shrimp, it is almost white, and this impedes its sales.

So to conclude, there’s nothing wrong with salmon farming except when it’s done intensively, the flesh is indeed artificially coloured through adding pigments to the fish’s feed but this is harmless, and it also contains far more fat that the wild equivalent.

The solution is to farm salmon less intensively, but this would entail an increase in price, which is unacceptable to the supermarkets who wish to shift large amounts of salmon, and to large amounts of consumers who have become accustomed to plentiful cheap salmon.

I’m beginning to sound like José Bové.

Just a couple things to clear up above:

The sea pens are stocked fairly densly, but they are not “jam-packed full of salmon”, certainly no where’s near the density of chickens and such. At 50 kg/cubic meter, if you flattened that out to 2-D, you’d have (at harvest size) 2-3 fish per square meter. Salmonids actually can be grown at much higher densities than that, but it’s impractical for several reasons. If you’ve ever tried netting salmon out of these sea cages you’ll quickly realize just how much empty space there is. Even at full size it’s quite impossible to catch them with a dip net unless you pull the nets up to cut the size of the cage at least in half. I’ve been in turkey barns you couldn’t help stepping on them if you just walked at a normal pace - and these places are completely open (no cages).

This one kinda gets under my skin because it’s so untrue. Rather than address it myself and probably go too far, I’ll take a quote from the page I cited in my last post to do so:

**"MYTH #2
Farmed salmon are frequently fed antibiotics that contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Farmed salmon are fed more antibiotics per pound, than any other livestock in North America.

The Facts:
This is absolutely untrue. Antibiotics are used far less intensively in aquaculture than in land-based meat producing industries.
The use of medicine in animal husbandry is a standard part of modern veterinary practice. To suggest that there is something wrong with treating livestock with medication is as ludicrous as suggesting that humans should give up modern medicine.
What activists characterize as the “frequent” use of antibiotics is actually a specialized, controlled and limited program of use that has led to a tremendous decline in the amount of antibiotics used in aquaculture. Only 3 per cent of feed provided to farmed salmon is medicated – hardly a “frequent” occurrence.
This trend toward the reduced use of antibiotics is attributable to:
Better husbandry techniques (more space, better nutrition etc);
The use of more effective, targeted antibiotics that require less drug per treatment; and
The development and increased availability of fish vaccines

The BC salmon farming industry is heavily regulated by government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The fish produced by the industry are approved as safe for human consumption only after rigorous government testing and analysis.
If fish are subject to targeted and limited antibiotic treatments, they can only be harvested after regulated “clearance periods” that ensure there are zero residues in any fish product delivered to the market."**

This info is from BC, not Norway. However from my time working with/on and studying salmon farms, I can say with pretty good certainty that using medicated feed is the last thing a farmer wants to do. It’s very expensive, and no farm in any part of the world could afford to raise fish using 100% medicated feed. Feed is the second biggest cost of production behind labour, and medicated feed is at least double the price. Vaccination is much better, and even that is expensive. So farmers will do whatever they can to avoid disease - any solution is cheaper than medicated feed and drugs - that’s a last ditch effort.

Which all leads to the last comment to address:

I’ll admit this seems quite logical, and there are definately elevated levels of parasite and disease organisms near net pens. However in many parts of the world the pens are required by law not to be in the migratory paths of wild fish. And more importantly, there has been no scientific corroberation that wild stocks are adversly affected by these disease sources. Back when I was just starting to learn about aquaculture and salmon farming I was against it, and this was one con that I thought would surely prove valid. Unfortunately I’ve yet to find see that proof. Here is one example of how the numbers just don’t pan out (again from the same page) See myth number 2. It talks about pink salmon in BC, but from what I’ve read so far there haven’t been any findings for Atlantics anywhere else that show the correlation you refer to. If you can provide them, I’d like to read them.

Cecil on coloration, shrimp, and flamingos

And mmmiiikkkeee, what the heck do you mean, flattening a 3-d volume to 2-d?

Simple; fish can swim around up and down and “stack” in the space they have, turkeys and cows can’t. So telling people there are X kg of salmon per cubic meter of water when they’re envisioning chickens walking around on the ground for density comparison doesn’t work.

But if you take that same volume of water (1000L) and imagine it deep enough for only one layer of fish (say 20cm) and then add the same amount of fish (50kg) and count how many fish there’d be per square meter there’d be about 2 (rather than the 10/square meter you’d see if you were looking straight down into a cube of water.

So that’s what I mean by flattening the 3-D cubic meter of water with fish on top of each other to more of a 2-D shape where the fish can’t stack up so you could envision them the same way you see other farm animals. Pretty simple.

Ah, simpler yet I was expressing fish density in terms of area rather then volume since a comparison made was to land-based livestock - no big deal.