An advisory council has urged European and national agencies to recognize that different fish production methods can cause different food safety risks.
The Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC) said food safety authorities need to give consumers accurate information about the risks related to fish species depending on whether the production method was farmed or caught.
The council, which includes industry and other stakeholders, provides advice to the European Commission and member states on new regulations at EU or national levels that impact aquaculture.
Fish contributes to a healthy diet but can also expose the public to food safety hazards that need to be managed. People must be educated about these issues so they can develop responsible consumption habits, according to AAC.
Farmed and caught fish differences
Significant quantities of fish can be found on the EU market from two different production methods: farmed or caught. Numerous species of finfish sold can be either farmed or caught from the wild.
AAC published a recommendation asking the European Commission and member states to ensure that fish-related risk assessment reports and consumption guidance say whether they refer to caught or farmed fish or both.
Research indicates that although there are no significant differences in consumer food safety beliefs on wild versus farmed fish, generally, farmed fish are perceived to be less affected by marine pollution, heavy metals and parasites.
A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion on contaminants in the food chain in a safety assessment of wild and farmed fish in 2005 mainly focused on dioxins and mercury. AAC said other hazards must also be considered such as the potential presence of zoonotic parasites, like anisakis.
Another example is ciguatera poisoning. Although it mainly affects tropical reef fish, some parts of Europe are seeing an increase in cases.
EFSA published a report this year on the risk characterization of ciguatera poisoning in Europe which refers to the ciguatera risk stemming from certain fish species, but some of these can be on the market as both caught and farmed products. AAC said the report does not cover fish production methods, so implies the problem equally involves wild and farmed fish.
Ciguatera only affects wild fish whose flesh is contaminated with toxins because of feeding habits, and this does not apply to farmed fish, according to the group.
Other examples of hazards include mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and microplastics. While AAC admitted these hazards are not absent in farmed fish, they should be at lower levels than in wild fish.
Fish are contaminated through their eating habits and feed intake, and some wild species live for long periods before being captured, allowing bioaccumulation of toxins, whereas farmed fish are slaughtered at a young age.
Caught fish feed on wild prey from the sea that may carry contaminants. Farmed fish get compound feeds that are controlled by the fish farmer and are subject to safety rules.
The AAC added it believes the lack of differentiation between fish production methods in risk assessments and consumption guidance is not deliberate but is the result of not taking the existence of farmed fish into consideration.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)