Much ink has been spilled in opposition to the practice of raising and consuming meat (cows, pigs, etc), for what it does to the environment as well as our humanity. Raising meat uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to quantify them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — an amount that far exceeds that of transportation.
We have been urged to eat less (most Americans eat on average 8 ounces of meat a day) and consider the lasting impact that industrial meat production has on our planet, our health, and our conscience. But as much as meat production takes an enormous toll on our planet, cows, pigs, and the like are a relatively renewable resource (although not sustainable) whereas the planets reserves of wild fish are rapidly (and I mean rapidly) dwindling. Recent books like Four Fish, by the author Paul Greenberg, outline the lasting damage over-fishing of wild fish stocks and its promised solution aquaculture have had on the planet, and how our appetite for fish and seafood is leading us down a very unsustainable path.
Now comes news from the WorldFish Center and Conservation International (a global think tank on these sorts of global matters) that reveals some pretty disturbing info about the global farmed fish trade. While the report is fairly technical by nature, one look at the below graphic, which reveals where the glut of aquaculture production is happening and clearly illustrates that China is providing the lions share of it.
China has gotten a very bad rap for its food imports of recent, and for good reason (to be clear, this is not intended to be a criticism of Chinese people, but of Chinese quality control and business practices) as there have been countless health scares and recalls surrounding everything from milk to fish produced in China. The above graphic reveals that China (which resembles a big red puffer fish compared to the rest of the continents wispy-looking seaweed forms) accounts for over 61% of the global aquaculture in 2008 (a figure that has likely increased by a few percentage points in the last 3 years) and has been well-known to produce a fish product that is hardly free of antibiotics and other questionable chemicals. The truly frightening thing about this fact is that even though China is the largest exporter of seafood to the US, our government (FDA) has very little ability to do sufficient safety and quality checks on incoming imports.
According to the Worldfish Center report, Don Kraemer, then deputy director at the Office of Food Safety of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, testified in 2008 on the subject of Chinese seafood imports and said:
“In the course of an increased sampling program of imported Chinese aquacultured seafood which ran from October 1, 2006, through May 31, 2007, FDA continued to find residue of unapproved drugs in fish species including catfish, basa, shrimp, dace and eel. Because the problems were seen in product from many different companies located in various parts of China, FDA imposed a countrywide Import Alert (IA #16-131) on all farm-raised catfish, basa, shrimp, dace and eel from China.”
While there are some aquaculture practices throughout the world (some in Canada, Spain, United States, etc) that are actually sustainably raising an abundance of seafood, the fact that our main source of seafood is not should cause some significant concern. Does any of this resonate with you? Has your consumption of seafood lessened since you have become aware of the problem of over-fishing and the questionable aquaculture practices that produce the majority of our seafood imports? Are you willing to give up fish altogether?