Jewish Journal

Mad Salmon?

by Andrew Morris

Posted on Jan. 29, 2004 at 7:00 pm

The latest threat to the Jewish way of life in Britain is a malicious attack on the very fabric of Jewish identity.

The community's lox is under threat.

In the latest in a series of food scares, U.S. scientists have published research warning that farmed Scottish salmon -- the source of the majority of British Jewry's staple fish -- contains high levels of potentially carcinogenic dioxins.

The research, published in the respected journal Science, recommends that consumers avoid eating Scottish farmed salmon more than three times a year to reduce the potential cancer risk.

The findings have caused an uproar at Jewish breakfast tables and bar mitzvah buffets across the land.

"I've been serving and eating salmon since I care to remember, and I don't intend to allow some pressure group to put a stop to that. It's just another silly food scare," said Leslie Silverman, a kosher caterer based in the south of England.

Silverman has an array of international authorities backing her up.

The World Health Organization, the European Union and the British Food Standards Agency (FSA), all have rejected the study's recommendations, much to the relief of Silverman and her hungry clients.

"This study shows that the levels of dioxins and PCBs" -- both toxins linked to cancer -- "in salmon are within internationally recognized safety limits and confirms previous studies by the FSA," said the agency's chairman, Sir John Krebs.

The article has not caused a stir in the United States, where leading U.S. kosher-certification and kosher-food authorities said they're aware of the issue scare but have received no official warnings or consumer complaints.

"I haven't heard anything in the kosher community that even resembles concern," said Menachem Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing Communications, which produces the annual Kosherfest trade show.

"We think it is important for people who eat salmon to know that farmed salmon have higher levels of toxins than wild salmon from the open ocean," University of Indiana professor Ronald Hites told the BBC.

Detractors of the research also highlight the study's failure to note the health benefits of salmon, which is rich on fatty acids and thought to reduce the risk of heart attacks and -- in contradiction to the current research findings -- cancer.

Gary Tucker, managing director of Riverine Smoked Salmon, a firm that supplies many of the U.K.'s kosher delis and caterers, is determined to spread the message that salmon is not only safe, it's good for you.

Whether Jewish aficionados buy their lox and fresh salmon for the health benefits is somewhat beside the point, however.

"Smoked salmon and cream-cheese bagels on a Sunday morning are a tradition, plain and simple,'' Silverman said.

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