Looking to Imports to Avoid Oil-Tainted Gulf Shrimp? Look Carefully.

Shrimp Salad

Shrimp season may have just opened in the Gulf, but as people show concern over the safety of Gulf seafood, individuals and businesses may begin to look elsewhere, most likely to imports.

Over 80 percent of shrimp consumed in the US is already imported, so it’s nothing new and nothing to really be afraid of; however, with Gulf shrimp possibly in short supply, some overseas companies may try to cut corners to meet the demand quickly.

Learn how you can choose your shrimp wisely.

Problems with Aquaculture

Many shrimp imports are farmed shrimp.Β  Shrimp farming is a practice whereby shrimp are raised in close quarters and harvested rather than growing wild and being caught.Β  While farmed shrimp won’t be tainted with oil, shrimp farming can have contamination problems of its own.

Up to 20 percent of food-borne illness is caused by seafood.Β  It spoils easily and can contain toxins that make people ill.

The contamination problem is aggravated by aquaculture practices – or shrimp and fish farming.Β  In aquaculture, the conditions in which the seafood is raised are cramped, and this facilitates contamination and growth of pathogens.Β  Often to prevent disease, antibiotics and other veterinary drugs, like fungicides, are used.

While aquaculture is a way to deliver cheap seafood worldwide, unfortunately, these chemicals and diseases just may end up on your plate.

Problems with Import Inspection

Shrimp’s popularity has exploded over the last few decades and is now the most popular seafood in the US.Β  Because of this, over 80 percent of shrimp is imported – and aquaculture is popular overseas.

The FDA and USDA test imports for salmonella, drugs, chemicals and general filth, but due to lack of funding, less than 2 percent of imports are physically inspected.Β  Obviously, it is not feasible – nor is it statistically sound – to inspect every single shipment, but 2 percent is peanuts compared to the European Union’s 20-50 percent inspection rate.Β  Their exact percentage depends on the risk of contamination.

Even though the US import inspection rate is low, the statistics provide insight on how you can avoid contaminated seafood.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Eating Contaminated Shrimp and Seafood

  • Look for wild-caught shrimp and seafood.Β  Since they are not grown in cramped environments, it is much less likely that wild-caught seafood will have chemical contaminants (unless of course you get an oily bunch from the Gulf).Β  Thanks to COOL (Country of Origin Labeling), it is mandatory that unprocessed seafood you buy at the grocery store be labeled wild-caught or farm-raised.Β  It may not be labeled at a restaurant or small fish market, but you should be able to ask.
  • Check the country of origin. COOL also mandates that the country of origin be label for unprocessed seafood.Β  You can avoid seafood from countries that have a poor record for contamination.Β  Many shrimp are imported from Asia, and unfortunately some of the countries do not have the “rigorous” food quality standards that we do.Β  Thailand, the largest exporter of shrimp, is trying to get their safety under wraps; however, they also import from other countries with even worse standards – Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam, to name a few – and then export the shrimp as a product of Thailand.
  • Avoid processed shrimp and seafood. Processed seafood – seafood in cans, pre-seasoned, pre-packaged or processed in any way – has a higher rate of contamination.Β  Also, if seafood is processed, it is not required to be labeled with the country of origin, so you will not know where it originated.

This post was based on the reports found here:

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/report/import-alert/

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/report/suspicious-shrimp/

and facts were checked from here:

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/COOL

http://health.msn.com/nutrition/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100248624

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_factsheet.aspx?gid=20

Image credit:

Flickr Creative Commons by stevendepolo

4 Comments

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  1. Did you know for every pound of wild shrimp captured, 9-10 pounds of other creatures such as juvenile fish are often killed and wasted?
    You do have another alternative. Freshwater shrimp (prawns) raised in the U.S. are environmentally sustainable, given a best choice in all categories by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Programs, and are raised by local farmers near the markets so that transport costs are minimized and local farms are supported.
    JT

  2. Bacterial contamination of seafood usually occurs post harvest for both wild and farmed seafood. I have visited shrimp processing plants in Central America and their standards, equipment and operations make our US based wild product processing plants look like they are still in the stone age.

    The bio-security at these plants is much better than the bio-security in US Hospitals. The quality control for bacteria pathogens and related potential health considerations is first rate. You don’t see people without hair nets, gloves, face masks and sterile uniforms and boots and one way biosecure flows (when workers arrive, they go through complete cleaning and then move to the next area to put on sterile garments before it is even possible to enter the work area — try and get that procedure in our Hospitals).

    It helps to know what your are talking about rather, than just buying the propaganda line. There is a commercial war going on between farmed and wild seafood producers that is just a modern version of the buffalo hunters VS the farmers and ranchers. However, in this case the buffalo hunters have the government support and the superior propaganda machine, which you can see in the references sites. For the activists, they get a lot of fund raising exposure and cheap victories without any real opposition (there is no real US aquaculture industry).

    • I believe you when you say there is a war going on, but farmed shrimp seems to have some serious problems with environmental contamination, as well as other contaminants aside from bacteria showing up in the food.

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