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Farmed Salmon: Bright Red Means Color Added

I have noticed some new labeling in the grocery store for Farmed Raised Salmon. Have you? There is a need to label "Color Added Through Feed." You must be wondering why! The reason is simple, just because of the looks! Otherwise the farm-raised flesh would be gray without the additive. And yes, we all want to eat farmed raised salmon with the same color as wild salmon. But we have to keep in mind that only wild salmon, which eat foods such as shrimp and krill that contain naturally occurring pigments, have rosy flesh. Do we really want to have the color added?

Althought these pigments are natural, the manufactured additives are a synthetic version of natural pigments. The artificial pigments fed to salmon through feeding-stuff are canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, and both are from the carotenoid family. Canthaxanthin belongs to a larger class of phytochemicals known as terpenes. It was first isolated in edible mushrooms. It has also been found in green algae, bacteria, and crustacean. Astaxanthin is found in the microalga Haematococcus. Other source of natural astaxanthin is from the crustacean family such as the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba).

The FDA and the European Union have regulated the amount of these pigments used as a feed additive for the purpose of coloring salmon.

In the European Union, canthaxanthin is currently authorized for use as a coloring agent up to a level of 80 mg per kg in complete feeding-stuffs for salmonids. And, in the case of the fish, if combined with astaxanthin, there is a maximum permitted level of 100 mg total of canthaxanthin plus astaxanthin per kg complete feeding-stuff. But the European Union is not certain if these levels are healthy to human beings and recommends risk assessment if the level is interchanged between canthaxanthin and astaxanthin.

The FDA on the other hand, states that the quantity of astaxanthin in feeding-stuff (finished feed), from haematococcus algae meal when used alone or in combination with other astaxanthin color additive sources shall not exceed 80 milligrams per kilogram (72 grams per ton) of finished feed.

While I was doing the research about the "color added through feed of farmed salmon," I found out that the EU Food Health Commissioner, David Byrne, announced in January 2004, that the pigment canthaxanthin has been linked to eyesight problems. "Scientific assessments have shown that a high intake of the additive produces an accumulation of pigments in the retina, affecting sight," said Byrne.

Bottom line, this type of information is important to know, so we become more educated and aware about the consequences of these pigments in our bodies.


DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Food and Drug Administration, 21 CFR Part 73, 07/05/2000

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, HEALTH & CONSUMER PROTECTION DIRECTORATE-GENERAL - Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition on the use of canthaxanthin in feeding-stuffs for salmon and trout, laying hens, and other poultry, Adopted on 17 April 2002

Adapted by Editorial Department, March 2007
Last update, August 2008



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