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 www.foodandwaterwatch.org.