This Is Your Fish On Drugs

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Who needs prescriptions when we have pharmaceutical waste in our fish?
All salmon is heart-healthy because it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, but you can also get a dose of Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering prescription drug, which is found in the flesh of wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest. You might be treating allergies, anxiety, menstrual cramps, and dozens more ailments with the substances contained in a chinook netted in the Puget Sound, whose waters are a cocktail of 81 over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs.

We flush the drugs out of our bodies, through the sewers, and into fish habitats.
We’re a nation of pill poppers. More than half of all Americans are currently taking a prescription drug and 20% of us take three or more different prescriptions daily. Between 30-90% of all those drugs aren’t absorbed and are excreted out through urine, but wastewater treatment plants aren’t often designed to catch them. A 30-state study performed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA found pharmaceuticals in 80% of the ‘clean’ water samples.

Pharmaceutical residue isn’t like other pollutants.
Modern pharmaceuticals are designed to be biologically active even at very low concentrations. Fish and marine animals that swim in contaminated waters are subject to very low level exposure. The drugs don’t have the acute toxicity of oil spills and pesticides, but they’re absorbed into the creatures’ systems where they can have more subtle impact over time.

Exposure to human hormones alters the gender identities of fish.
There are feminized fish and frogs— these are egg-producing males with ovaries that are regularly found in waters laced with the synthetic estrogen found in birth control pills and menopause treatments. Spawning and reproduction are interrupted, and these inter-sex creatures have led to the collapse of wild fish populations everywhere from the Potomac River to the coast of Spain.

Fish also have very human responses to psychiatric drugs.
Residue from the widespread human use of mood-altering medications is changing fish behavior. A shy fish becomes bolder on anti-anxiety drugs, less likely to stay within the safety of the group and more likely to be eaten by a predator. An anti-depressant like Xanax can make fish eat faster, and Prozac can make them sluggish and anti-social.

Drug-induced changes in fish behavior can lead to unexpected ecological consequences as they alter population sizes and the balance and diversity of species in waterways. The drugs are also working their way up the food chain as larger fish and other marine creatures like osprey and otter feed on the drug-exposed species.

We’ve understood the problem for 20 or so years, and we’ve watched it get worse.
Sewage treatment plants still aren’t required to remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater before discharging it into open water. Meanwhile, the massive baby boomer generation is taking a deep dive into prescription drugs to fight age-related ailments like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, creating unheard of levels of pharmaceutical pollution. Hydrologists are predicting even greater toxicity as global warming brings droughts and declining water levels, further concentrating the pollution in freshwater bodies.

Our dependence on pharmaceuticals isn’t likely to wane. 
Nor is the need for clean, fresh water.


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Farmed Shrimp: A Cocktail of Nastiness


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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. Consumerswhich 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:



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A Bone of Contention

Infographic courtesy of Good Magazine

Just try to sort out the information on fish.

It’s undeniably healthy: low in saturated fats, high in essential fatty acids, and an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, and trace minerals. But what kind of fish can you eat without worrying about mercury, PCBs, chlorinated pesticides, dioxins, furans, PBDEs, and other nasty contaminants? And what about dwindling fish stocks and damaged habitats from unsustainable fishing practices

There are some basic guidelines that you can follow to help pick seafood that is healthy and sustainable: […]

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