Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Farmed seafood: Whole Foods Market v. Costco Wholesale

On Sunday, I roasted four pieces of fresh wild sockeye salmon fillet from the Copper River in Alaska in a 400-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes with lime juice, Aleppo red pepper and garden herbs, which were toasted. I bought the fillet at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.
On Monday, I had a second piece of the moist, fatty, skin-on salmon straight from the refrigerator, with just a splash of fresh lime juice.

Editor's note: Since I posted this in May 2013, Costco Wholesale has introduced farmed Atlantic salmon raised without antibiotics, sold for a couple of dollars more a pound than the conventional farmed salmon in the same refrigerated case. 


With the arrival of fresh wild sockeye fillets at Costco Wholesale, I no longer have to be tempted by the farmed Atlantic salmon available at my warehouse store year-round.

The wild Alaskan salmon is more expensive, but it is also deeper in color and far tastier than its farmed cousin.

And if I ever buy Atlantic salmon, I'll check for sales at Whole Foods Market, which has the strictest standards for farmed seafood, according to its official Whole Story blog:

Pardon our pride, but we really do have incredibly strong and thorough buying standards for farmed seafood—feel free to compare us to other markets! We are committed to these standards and to implementing them for farmed seafood throughout our stores. Here are a few highlights:
  • Our Quality Standards for Aquaculture prohibit the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian by-products in feed.
  • We do not carry genetically modified or cloned seafood.
  • We partner with farmers who work hard to be the leaders in sustainable aquaculture.
  • Our standards require producers to minimize the impacts of fish farming on the environment by protecting sensitive habitats such as mangrove forests and wetlands, monitoring water quality to prevent pollution and sourcing feed ingredients responsibly.
  • Our seafood is free from added preservatives such as sodium bisulfite, sodium tri-polyphosphate (STP) and sodium metabisulfite.

Here are specifics about the antibiotic-free farmed salmon sold at Whole Foods:

Our salmon are raised in carefully monitored, low-density pens and tanks without antibiotics, pesticides or added growth hormones. Detailed protocols prevent escape of the salmon into the wild, and harmful and lethal methods are never used on predator birds and marine mammals.

Costco sells the season's first fresh wild salmon at a premium.

Costco's farmed salmon

I found the standards for Costco's farmed Atlantic salmon on its Web  site.

Wild salmon mature in the ocean, growing fat on a diet of shrimp and krill, which give them their distinctive orange-red color.

Costco's farmed salmon, on the other hand eat a far different diet, which includes a coloring agent, as described below:

Atlantic Salmon FAQ's

Please see below for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Kirkland Signature Atlantic Salmon.

Q. Where does your farmed salmon come from?

A. We currently purchase our Atlantic boneless skinless salmon fillet from Chile and Canada.  We have purchased from Norway, Scotland, and Ireland in the past.

Q. What do farmed salmon eat?

A. A farmed salmon’s diet contains the following ingredients:  Fish meals (herring, sardines, capelin), plant proteins (soybean meal, canola meal, wheat), fish oils (menhaden, herring or sardine), plant oils (soybean, canola, or corn), vitamins, minerals, carotenoid compound for red/orange color, binder (complex carbohydrates to hold diets together).

*GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) or steroids are never used for growth enhancements.

Q. Are antibiotics or tranquilizers used in salmon farming?

A. Antibiotics are used only under strict supervision of a licensed veterinarian and are subject to the same strict regulations for beef and poultry.  Our salmon farmers do not use tranquilizers.

Q. Do we test our salmon fillets and what do we test for?

A. Yes, we currently have testing in place.  We have the salmon tested at the processing plants in Canada and Chile.  Costco Wholesale also does monthly testing.  We test for pesticides and heavy metals (aluminum, lead, iron, silver, copper, zinc, mercury, titanium, arsenic, and magnesium).  Micro-biological testing is also done (bacteria counts, salmonella, listeria, mold, yeast, and TPC).  After all that, we do the physical testing (net weight, trim specification, color, bones, and skin).

Q. Do salmon farms spread disease?

A. Salmon farmers follow stringent fish health practices where brood-stock and eggs are rigorously tested and the salmon are raised in disease free water.  Records show that the only disease found in farmed salmon are those which occur naturally in the wild salmon population.

Q. What are the benefits to eating salmon?

A. Salmon is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Studies have found that people who eat salmon foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, have a reduced risk of heart disease.

Wild salmon until fall

Costco Wholesale will sell fresh wild salmon through early October, if past years are any guide.

After that, I'll return to eating fresh wild-caught haddock, flounder and cod from Costco.

If I want salmon, I can always buy frozen wild Alaskan fillets from Costco or try Whole Foods' farmed salmon when it is on sale.


  1. There is no such thing as ethical, sustainable farmed salmon. None. Raised in pens, farmed salmon are raised apart from the environment where food is removed from the ocean and fed to them, and no orca, seal, eagle or bear can ever make them part of the food chain. Cheap, farmed salmon undermine the value of wild salmon, and with that they undermine the value of the clean forests, rivers and oceans wild salmon need. Please do not purchase farmed salmon. Thanks. Jack and Barbra Donachy, (By the way, WordPress has a MUCH more user-friendly interface for comments than this blog.)

    1. Well said! The current open net pen method (at ALL locations) and food pellet production is aquacidal and eco-cidal. There is no such thing as open net pen salmon that do not destroy wildlife and wild fish while polluting in horrendous ways. It's a PR stunt.

    2. Very good conviction against farmed salmon, but what do you eat then? Since cows, pigs, chicken, rice, tomatoes, soy, almost all vegetables and animals are farmed and raised apart from environment. I admire you about your conviction, but I also hope that you are true to your words.

    3. Wild salmon or other wild fish from Costco or a Korean supermarket at least once a week and in enough quantity to have leftovers. Sardines, whiting and other small fish are low in mercury, too.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I don't believe Word Press allows anonymous comments, and so many people who read blogs don't want to be identified.

  3. Jack, Your argument falls flat when you consider that most every other meat product that we buy in grocery store is also farmed. Are you suggesting we don't eat chicken, eggs, beef, milk, pork, etc? Do you only eat "wild caught chickens"? Of course not. How is farming salmon that much different and that much more degrading to the environment? The answer is that it isn't. Regular modern animal farming and agricultural practices are also very damaging if not more damaging than farming fish. The bottom line is that the oceans are suffering from pollution, overfishing, climate change and a host of other ailments. The worlds population is growing whether I like it or you like it. The oceans are in trouble and if people are going to want to eat salmon in the future for a reasonable price, the only way will be farmed. You can't have a world that loves salmon depending upon only the natural salmon in the oceans and rivers, it just won't work. China has a rising class of people who want to live just like westerners. Whether you like it or not, farmed salmon and farmed fish are the future. They have to be since there is no sign that countries will independently monitor themselves and how much fish they catch. You present your case as if there is a true dichotomy between preserving salmon in the wild and farming salmon. As if somehow raising farmed fish necessarily makes preserving the wild population "not as important". Although, anyone who understands the true complexity and challenges of the situation will realize that it's not that simple, nor are these things inversely proportionate to one another. We can do both, and in fact farming salmon can help us protect the wild salmon by easing the fishing pressures on the population. We won't be pressured to over-fish as much. The truth of the matter is that the entire planet is in a sixth mass extinction caused by humans. You can't isolate one species that's important to humans and complain about how people are coming up with alternative methods to supply their dinner table. If you want to help the salmon, fight the environmental battles that will also help the millions of other species that are going extinct at a phenomenal rate. Then and only then will you be facing the real enormity of the problem facing human-kind, and by addressing that, you will be addressing the real issue. Fish farming unfortunately is the way of the future because the population and human resource demands require it. It can be done sustainably, and will have to be done if we want to keep eating fish in the future.

    1. This is a lot to digest, but at first blush I think your comparison between farming of animals and fish is flawed. More later.

    2. This rush to fish farming is unnecessarily alarmist. There would be nothing wrong with farming fish, if there are organic standards for seafood, but in the absence of those, pledges to sell anitibiotic- and preservative-free farmed fish from Whole Foods and other retailers is the best we have.

      At the same time, there are many sustainable fisheries, especially in Alaska, where much of that wild salmon comes from.

      The world has no obligation to feed the Chinese wild salmon. That country's food safety record is terrible. so let them get their own house in order.

      Organic farming practices ensure purity when it comes to meat, fruit and vegetables. Most farmed fish can't be compared to those animals and crops.

      Costco Wholesale sells fillets of several wild-caught fish, including salmon, at affordable prices. As long as it does, I see no need to buy artificially colored farmed salmon, unless your only priority is to save money.

      I'm also disturbed you don't identify yourself. You sound like someone who is getting rich off fish farming, and to hell with the environment.

    3. "How is farming salmon that much different and that much more degrading to the environment? The answer is that it isn't."
      Meat farmers build barns to isolate animals from predators, diseases found in nature, etc and clean up manure and can isolate outbreaks...netting does NONE of this. You are obviously a PR campaigner for the greedy destructive net pen abusers.

    4. Be careful with your frozen salmon, Jack. A lot of Alaska's production goes to China to be reprocessed and brought back to the U.S. It's much cheaper to do it there than on on site in Alaska where the demands of a wild fish run limit production to heading, gutting and freezing. There's no time to fillet and portion every fish. The FDA requires Country of Origin labeling, so while a fish may be caught in Alaska, if it is value-added in China, the label will say "Product of China" or, at best, "Product of U.S.A., Processed in China".

    5. Pretty sure neither Costco nor Whole Foods sells frozen fish that was processed in China.

    6. Maybe not frozen fish but the box of jumbo coconut shrimp I bought from Costco a few months ago said "product of China".

    7. Again, I would avoid food from China until it improves its safety record.

  4. yes, to hell with it. it's too late. survival starts soon

  5. I buy salmon fillets at Vons (Safeway) from Chile, not farm raised, and it DOESN'T SMELL, on the contrary, it's always fresh and tastes wonderful. When I can afford it I also buy the Chilean sea bass which is the king of fish. I don't buy at Costco or Whole Foods so I don't know what they are selling. I don't like fish buy stick to these 2 items and never touch shellfish or crustaceans, eating lobster, shrimp, oysters etc. is the worst thing you can do.

    1. Not sure about your last point. Chilean sea bass, also known as Patagonian tooth fish, has a great deal of harmful mercury and you should limit your intake.

    2. Well I bought some from Safeway, Cod too and its from China

    3. Cod comes from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Was your cod processed in China, which has a very poor food-safety record? I wouldn't buy any fish from China. Doesn't your Safeway sell fresh fish? Ask for any fillets they have that are fresh and wild-caught, such as flounder and sole.

  6. I received an anonymous comment on wild v. farmed salmon that contains a significant error and refers to a report that is more than a decade old and likely invalid today. For one thing, wild salmon prices have held steady in recent years, fetching as much as $30 a pound in some supermarkets and fish stores. Here's the comment and the link this person provided to a government report, NOT one from Alaskan wild salmon fishers, as he or she asserts:

    "maybe you should read what the Alaska wild caught industry says about their own product:

    "The Alaska salmon industry is in permanent competition with farmed salmon producers who deliver an ever-increasing volume of consistently high-quality products that wholesale buyers have learned to expect. Uneven quality is a business cost that salmon buyers can now avoid. Alaska producers do not deliver consistent quality, and this contributes to ever-declining prices for Alaska products. Continue to expand a salmon quality control and certification system, which has been under development in Alaska since 2001, to other regions of Alaska. The goal is to make these quality handling practices and product grade standards an inherent part of each seafood processor's routine, so that they no longer require hand-holding in the form of expensive training, supervision, and assistance.


  7. The nutritional difference between "wild" salmon and the farmed (at least where Costco is concerned)is absolutely MINISCULE(fact). To all the people not wanting consumers to purchase farmed salmon: Tell the suppliers to stop making us have to rob our 401K in order to buy a chunk of "wild' salmon.

    1. That's a wild exaggeration. A pound of wild salmon feeds a family of three generously. And you avoid not only artificial color, but preservatives, antibiotics and other harmful additives.

      So the "nutritional difference" doesn't tell the whole story.

    2. Fresh wild sockeye salmon is now $9.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, only a couple of dollars more per pound than those huge slabs of artificially colored and who-knows-what-else farmed salmon next to it.

      Your 401K is safe. LOL.

  8. Please stop sending repeated plugs for your business in hope that I will publish them.

  9. You're really paranoid if anyone disagrees with you, especially if they remain anonymous. Must be a "shill" if they offer conflicting information right? Please. Back off the shill gambit, it's tiresome and makes you look foolish.

    There is nothing harmful in farmed fish. Anything you've perpetuated as harmful looks like scaremongering. Gosh, maybe you work for Big Organic! (See how ignorant that looks?)

    1. What are you so angry about? If your wonderful farmed fish was raised on antibiotics and other additives, it certainly could be harmful.

      Farmed salmon is articificially colored, but worse than that is its blandness -- no taste when compared to wild.

      No reason to settle for farmed fish when wild is so abundant.

    2. I'm with you Vic. I am a single mom, not always earning an income. When budget allows, I love to buy wild. Trader Joe's has a wonderful price on wild salmon, albeit frozen. It feeds my son and I for a full week.

    3. The debate has long been settled on wild vs farmed. I harvest wild every summer and take great pride in doing so. I trade a portion of my fish for locally grown pecans, black walnuts, an organically grown pig and chickens or eggs every year. I grow my own beef so I know it's good as well. There is a cost to eating well in today's world. Thankfully there is still a sustainable resource managed for all in Alaska with near record harvests in 2015. A bargain in wild fish awaits many.

    4. Thanks for your comment.

      And I agree: The debate is over, so let the eating of wild fish and organic food begin.

  10. For you all to know: intense red wild salmon has this color after spawning before it dies. You may notice how dry it is- very low fat content. This is very profitable business to sell garbage to those who doesn't understand. Try to find normally colored, fat alaskan salmonides, like king or arktic char. It will cost you at least $24/#.

    1. How is any wild-caught fish "garbage"?

      King salmon is actually paler than sockeye, judging from the salmon I've bought at Costco or ordered in restaurants in Manhattan. And wild sockeye is only "dry" when you overcook it.

      Also, are you saying male salmon aren't caught and sent to market? They don't spawn.


Please try to stay on topic.