Last updated on 9 January 2004

Salmon study in Science magazine

Find out more about dioxins and PCBs in response to the salmon study, published in Science magazine, 8 January 2004.

  • What do the findings mean for my health?

    This study does not present any new safety concerns. The levels of dioxins found in farmed salmon are below the safety levels set by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Union (EU) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • Why does this research say there is a problem?

    This study has based its conclusions on a risk assessment process that has been under consideration in the United States since 1991 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This process is not recognised by international organisations responsible for food safety and public health who consider it scientifically flawed. The EPA is concerned with environment protection and sets levels for fish caught recreationally in the United States.

    The World Health Organization set safety levels for dioxins and PCBs in 2001 based exclusively on public health protection. These form the basis of safety levels set for consumers who eat fish sold in shops.

  • Surely these are new findings?

    No. These levels of dioxins have previously been reported by the FSA. What is new is the comparison between different fish caught in different oceans. Since dioxins and PCBs are associated with industrial discharges into the sea, it is not surprising that fish from oceans remote from such areas have lower levels of these chemicals.

  • Is there no risk then?

    All foods can carry some risks. It is a question of balancing benefits and risks. The known benefits of eating oily fish outweigh any possible risks.

  • What are the benefits?

    There is good evidence that eating oily fish reduces the risk of death from recurrent heart attacks and from first heart attacks.

  • How much should I eat?

    Our advice is that people should consume at least two portions of fish a week – one of which should be oily.

  • Does that mean there's a problem if I eat more than that?

    Most people in the UK don't eat enough oily fish. On average people eat only one quarter of a portion of oily fish a week. For it to be a possible problem you would need to eat more than our recommendations every week throughout your lifetime.

  • What is the FSA doing in relation to oily fish?

    Last year we asked a group of experts to advise on the balance of risks and benefits of eating more than the recommended amount of fish each week regularly over a lifetime. They will report later this year.

  • Isn't the problem of dioxin pollution in food getting worse?

    No. We measure the quantity of dioxins people take in from all the food that they eat. Between 1997 and 2001 the average adult intake of these chemicals has halved.

  • Can I still eat Scottish farmed salmon or any farmed salmon?

    There is no reason to avoid eating Scottish farmed salmon or any other salmon. Research carried out by the Agency has shown no significant difference in levels of contaminants between farmed and wild salmon from the UK. We are carrying out further research in this area.

  • Are there controls on what is fed to farmed salmon?

    Yes. The European Union sets maximum levels for dioxins that may be in fish feed.

  • What about other oily fish?

    Dioxins are present in other oily fish at varying amounts, but there is no reason to avoid eating any of these fish. Our nutritional advice is to eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily.

  • Is smoked salmon okay to eat?

    Our advice for smoked salmon is no different from fresh salmon.

  • What are PCBs and dioxins and how did they get into salmon?

    Dioxins have never been produced intentionally. They may be formed as unwanted by-products in a variety of industrial processes and some domestic ones like household fires. They are found throughout the environment and fish accumulate them from what they eat, including other fish and fish feed.

  • What is being done to deal with the problem of dioxins and PCBs?

    PCBs have been used since the early 1930s, mainly in electrical equipment. The manufacture and general use of PCBs stopped in the 1970s and is no longer permitted in the UK. There are strict controls in place on the release of dioxins.