If you love shrimps, you won’t be happy to hear that they pose serious health risks as a result of the disastrous conditions in which they are raised. Namely, the advocacy group Food & Water Watch claims that more than 9 out of 10 fish we consume is imported, and half of it has been raised on fish farms.
Yet, the bad conditions in these fish farms have negative effects on the health of seafood and fish. Being the most popular seafood in the U.S., the industrialization of shrimp farming has been drastically increased to meet the demand.
A shrimp industry news source reports that low-density shrimp farming can yield 500 to 5,000 kilograms per hectare annually, while super-intensive shrimp farming can yield up to 100,000 kilograms per hectare per year.
According to Food & Water Watch, such an intensive production is quite challenging, as “with millions of shrimp crammed together in ponds, diseases can run rampant, in some cases severe enough to kill off entire ponds and even a country’s entire shrimp industry. On average, an intensive shrimp operation only lasts for seven years before the level of pollution and pathogens within the pond reaches a point where shrimp can no longer survive.”
CBS News speaks about the dangers of chloramphenicol, which is routinely found in imported shrimp :
“Chloramphenicol is a serious problem in the human food supply,” says food safety expert Caroline Smith DeWaal. “It’s like taking a drug that’s not prescribed.”
Food safety experts, like DeWaal, say the ban on the drug is a joke. The FDA, she says, tests less than 2 percent of imported seafood.
“It’s almost a certainty that some of the shrimp we are eating is contaminated with antibiotics that would be illegal in this country,” says Smith DeWaal.”
This increases the risk of contamination with such antibiotics, pesticides, and drug-resistant pathogens, as these foreign farms dump high doses of antibiotics into the pond water or feed pellets daily, and use dangerous chemicals to destroy fish, mollusks, fungi, plants, insects and parasites, many of which remain in the shrimp.
According to Wise Mind and Healthy Body:
“Over the last few decades, shrimp farming has been a relentless destroyer of huge expanses of tropical coastlines, particularly mangrove forests. Mangrove forest roots are bulldozed into the mud to make way for the intruding shrimp farms.
The coastal equivalent of terrestrial rain forests, mangroves are home to an incredibly diverse range of life. They are breeding grounds and nurseries for many fish, shellfish and other wildlife. Shrimp farming turns them into a barren and toxic prawn cocktail.”
Apparently, reviewing the labels of the foods we purchase is not a completely safe option neither, as Food & Water Watch says:
“Under the federal Country of Origin Labeling Law, also known as COOL, labels on fresh seafood are required to tell consumers where the fish was farmed or wild-caught.
Unfortunately, nearly 50 percent of the shrimp found in grocery stores have no label because they have been processed – boiled, breaded or added to a seafood medley – and thus are exempt from labeling requirements.
Stores that carry only a small amount of seafood are also exempt from COOL, as are restaurants. Even if a label isn’t apparent, consumers still can ask about the origin of their seafood.”
Quartz reports the findings of a recent study by Consumer Reports:
“Most shrimp is farmed in exporting countries like Thailand, Vietnam, India, and Indonesia, which provide 94% of the US supply. And conditions are pretty gross: If ponds aren’t properly managed, ”a sludge of fecal matter, chemicals, and excess food can build up and decay,” Consumer Reports said in its study, “How Safe is Your Shrimp?”
Shrimp are often given heavy doses of antibiotics to ward off bacteria and algae that thrive in their crowded tanks and ponds. Shrimp exports from the three biggest exporters—Thailand, Vietnam, and China—have suffered in recent years due to an outbreak of early mortality syndrome (EMS), a bacterial disease, which has hurt restaurant chains like Red Lobster.
Consumer Reports tested 342 frozen samples purchased from supermarkets and other food retailers in 27 US cities. Sixty percent were contaminated with bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.
Two percent of the samples tested positive for the superbug MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a scary strain of drug-resistant bacteria that causes hard-to-treat, life-threatening infections. Three percent of samples had illegally high levels of antibiotic residue.”
“Raw, farmed shrimp from Bangladesh and India were the most likely to carry bacteria, with 83% and 74% tainted, respectively. Raw, wild-caught shrimp from Argentina and the United States were the least likely to be tainted, at 33% and 20%, respectively.”
Therefore if you know the country of origin, it might reveal a lot about the safety of the product. The Government Accountability Office reported that a review of food safety regulations and high amounts of farmed shrimp:
Ecuador: “In 2010, the United States imported almost 243 million pounds of edible seafood from Ecuador, including shrimp, tilapia, and tuna…According to Ecuadoran officials, if government inspectors identify a human health hazard, they will take steps to destroy the product.
However, these farms can still sell their products to facilities, not under government oversight, and these products can be exported to countries where Ecuadoran government certification is not required, such as the United States.”
Indonesia: In 2010, the United States imported over 275 million pounds of edible seafood from Indonesia, including crabmeat, shrimp, and tuna… Indonesian officials told us that when they are notified of a rejected product, the affected processing plant is suspended from exporting additional seafood products until it takes the corrective action the government has determined is needed.
If the processing plant does not take the corrective action, the government can revoke the plant’s registration. According to Indonesian officials, FDA and the Indonesian government do not communicate on products that FDA has rejected for import. As a result, the Indonesian government does not learn that a product has been rejected for 2 or 3 months.”
Thailand: “In 2010, the United States imported over 916 million pounds of edible seafood from Thailand, including catfish, shrimp, and tuna…Thai officials told us that because their government has no agreement with FDA on food safety and because no health certification is required for exports to the United States, the government cannot ensure the overall safety of the seafood products, particularly in the final processing stage.”
On the other hand, Consumer Reports (CR) tests showed that wild shrimp from the water in the U.S. was less contaminated with bacteria or chemicals, even though it has its environmental risks.
Yet, CR recommends purchasing wild shrimp certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, whose Blue Fish Label indicates that the seafood was obtained from fisheries meeting their strict sustainability standards.
The video below gives you an insight into the numerous challenges consumers, wholesalers, and regulatory agencies face when purchasing and consuming shrimp: