Raised in sewage, bathed in toxins, harvested by child laborers…
and we’re just getting started.
Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the United States, and most of it is filthy, nasty stuff.
90% of the shrimp we eat has been imported, and 90% of that comes from shrimp farming ponds in developing nations with unsanitary conditions and lax regulations. When it’s inspected by U.S. regulatory agencies, shrimp is consistently found to contain more banned additives, pesticides, antibiotics, and even more cockroaches, than any other seafood, but less than 2% is inspected. Here’s what’s wrong with the shrimp that’s getting through the system.
Shrimp ponds are like over-crowded sewers
As shrimp grew in popularity, production has become more intensive to meet the demand. A few years ago, the typical one acre pond produced 445 pounds of shrimp; a concentrated operation will now produce as much as 89,000 pounds, packing 170,000 shrimp into a single acre. Most shrimp farms don’t purify, filter, or recycle the water as it becomes a stagnant cesspool of mouldering feed and decomposing shrimp bodies. Most ponds have seven year runs before the water itself kills off all the shrimp.
Drugging the sick shrimp
With all the bacteria flourishing in the pond water, shrimp farmers battle disease outbreaks with antibiotics, pesticides, and fungicides added to feed pellets or dumped directly in the water, or both. And while a mere 2% of the imports are inspected, only 0.1% are tested for chemical residues, according to the Government Accountability Office. Among the substances that the FDA fails to catch in the untested 99.9 % are the banned carcinogen PCB; chloramphenical, a highly toxic drug of last resort to treat typhoid fever and meningitis that’s been detected in shrimp at levels 150 times the legal limit; and penicillin, the antibiotic that is also the most commonly reported allergen in the U.S.
Ghastly conditions in shrimp processing plants
A reporter’s visit last fall to an Asian seafood exporter resulted in the Bloomberg News article Asian Seafood Raised on Pig Feces Approved for U.S. Consumers, which describes a filthy hellhole of buzzing flies, murky water, and unrefrigerated shrimp sitting on the trash-strewn floor waiting to be sorted. Human Rights Watch has documented physical abuse, debt servitude, and child labor, and Food and Water Watch reports on processed shrimp shipments that arrive in the U.S. containing filth like rodent hair and cockroaches.
More shrimp could leave us with nothing but shrimp
Shrimp farms dismantle critical elements of the marine ecosystem. Inland shrimp farming is located in ecologically important salt flats and marshes, giving farmers easy access to saltwater, the natural environment for shrimp, and intensive production almost always requires large-scale removal of mangroves. Coastal mangrove forests provide vital habitats for countless seafood species including snapper, wild tilapia, sea bass, oysters, and crabs. Food and Water Watch estimates that for each acre of mangroves destroyed, 675 pounds of commercial fish are lost. As much as 80% of mangrove forest land has already disappeared from the leading fish-farming nations of Thailand, Ecuador, Indonesia, China, Mexico, and Vietnam.
Go wild, go domestic
Rule out farmed imports and you’re left with the still imperfect options of wild-caught and domestically farmed shrimp.
Wild-caught shrimp isn’t raised in a chemical cocktail, but most is caught by trawling, a highly destructive fishing method that drags nets the size of football fields along the ocean floor. For every pound of shrimp that’s caught, many more pounds of marine life, including endangered species like giant sea turtles, are scooped up, most to be killed and discarded. The nets also inflict damage all along the ocean floor, razing coral reefs and stirring up plumes of sediment that are large enough to be seen from outer space. Domestically farmed shrimp is free of antibiotics and added toxins but there are still lingering concerns from the effects of the 2010 BP oil spill.
What’s a shrimp lover to do?
There are safe and environmentally-responsible farmed shrimp sources in the Pacific Northwest and sustainably and humanely harvested wild varieties like spot prawns and pink shrimp. Choose from the list of ‘best choices’ and ‘good alternatives’ provided by Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Their free downloadable guides will tell you what to buy and where you can find it for every region of the U.S.
Bubba tells us what we can do with all of our good, clean shrimp: