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Shrimp: A Devastating Delicacy

Shrimp: A Devastating Delicacy

Shrimp is America’s favorite seafood–it’s topped the list for the last three years. But while we love to eat it, most people don’t know much about this popular dish, other than the many ways there are to cook it. Unlike the popular movie Forrest Gump, which portrays shrimpers on small boats making a living each day by bringing fresh shrimp to shore to sell to eager customers, most of the shrimp we eat in the United States comes from farms as far away as Thailand or Brazil. American shrimpers are a dying breed these days because they can’t compete with cheap, foreign imports.

Nearly 80 percent of the shrimp that American consumers eat in restaurants or buy at the grocery store are imported and farm-raised. Chances are, the delicious shrimp cocktail you’re splurging on is loaded with antibiotics and chemicals because that’s what goes into the cramped, dirty ponds made to mass-produce shrimp.

At The Environment’s Expense
Mangroves–tropical coastal forests–are clear cut to make room for shrimp farms. Mangroves serve as spawning and nursery grounds for thousands of marine organisms and protect the coastline. Shrimp farms depend on staggering amounts of antibiotics, fungicides, algaecides and pesticides that pollute the water and marine life, including other fish.

Consumers’ Health Pays
Antibiotics are often misused in shrimp farms to prevent the spread of viruses. Shrimp farmers in parts of Asia dose their shrimp with antibiotics not only to prevent and treat Vibrio, a bacterial infection, but also with the belief that the antibiotics will prevent and treat viral infections such as white spot syndrome. White Spot Syndrome decimated farms throughout Asia and Central America in the 1990′s. Even when the virus doesn’t obliterate the farm, it survives freezing and may still exist when the shrimp finds its way to the consumer’s plate. To prevent outbreaks, companies pump thousands of tons of antibiotics into the farms.

One antibiotic–Chloramphenicol–is banned in the United States, but the US imports shrimp from countries that use it. Chloramphenicol is linked to human aplastic anemia–a lethal blood disorder, intestinal problems, neurological reactions and other health concerns. Unfortunately, the US does not have a rigorous inspection program for imported shrimp. Thailand, China, Vietnam and Ecuador all use this antibiotic in their shrimp farms and they send thousands of pounds of shrimp to the US every year, jeopardizing consumers’ health.

Cost to Local Communities
Traditionally, local communities depend on the mangroves for their survival. Women gather shellfish, mussels, crabs and other seafood to feed their families and to sell in local markets. Fishermen gain access to the sea through the mangroves, which they can no longer do when the shrimp farms are constructed. Due to cheap farm raised shrimp, American shrimpers are forced to sell their boats and coastal communities in the Global South are left without their livelihood, food and culture.

Food & Water Watch is an organization dedicated to the belief that the public should be able to count on our government to oversee and protect the quality and safety of food and water. For more information, go to

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4:54PM PDT on May 16, 2012

Thanks Mel for the informative article. The country of origin should be on the label so but accordingly.

3:43PM PDT on Mar 24, 2012

I can't take it any more.

12:03PM PST on Dec 19, 2011

have to think twice before i eat these shrimps again !!!

9:44AM PST on Feb 2, 2010

I haven't eaten shrimp for ages, since I heard about this issue. However, I've found a local seafood shop that sources all their shrimp from Oregon, which is certified sustainable:

3:32AM PST on Feb 2, 2010

I like shrimps and had even made different variety of viands out of shrimps.. but this article gave me a second thought to stop eating likewise...

12:02AM PST on Jan 29, 2010

i admit, i loved to eat shrimp. however, i haven't eaten any since my resolution to become vegetarian. i've only ever eaten prepared shrimp; i've never learned how to prepare it myself because i cannot bear with the idea of learning how to (the deveining, and shelling ...)

6:53AM PST on Jan 28, 2010

I have stopped eating shrimp because of all this.

8:46AM PST on Dec 17, 2009

it angers me that meticulous inspections aren't conducted on EVERY product entering this country.. we need to pressure our governments to do more!

5:19PM PST on Dec 8, 2009

Thanks, this is a very interesting article. I wonder whether it might be appropriate for Care2 to run a petition on these issues? For example, to ensure that consumers are informed about this, or to help save the remaining areas of mangroves.

5:15PM PST on Dec 7, 2009

I LOVE shrimp, but hadn't heard anything like this before. Has to be some where to buy better shrimp and be from the U.S. with no antibiotics. I am a firm beliver that we need to grow our own food and make our own products rather than import everything...which is lower quality than we would expect.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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