Are you a fan of shrimp? I was. Then I learned how shrimp farming ruins the environment and often enslaves foreign workers in a horrific inescapable hell, I thought shrimp was safe to eat relatively ethical alternative to meat. But I was wrong.
Shrimp Farming Poisons The Environment
Shrimp is by far the most popular seafood in American, with the average American consuming 4 pounds of shrimp annually. But shrimp farming as practiced today is devastating on the environment. Farmed shrimp are raised in artificial pools or tanks which stretch for acres and acres. These artificial pools are are treated with a wide variety of dangerous chemicals including antibiotics, organotin compounds and copper compounds. The fecal wastewater from these pools often ends up in nearby waterways. A 2003 study published by Marine Pollution Bulletin stated that:
…the use of more than 290 different chemicals and biological products was documented. Many of the pesticides, disinfectants and antibiotics used by the farmers could have negative effects on the cultured shrimps, cause a risk for food safety, occupational health, and/or have negative effects on adjacent ecosystems.
Sounds like factory farming of chickens and cows, doesn’t it? Stuff ’em in, load em up with antibiotics to prevent disease, and dump the waste in public waters.
Farmed Shrimp Endangers the Health of Consumers
Approximately 94% of the shrimp that Americans consume comes from countries including Indonesia, Thailand and China. In 2015, Consumer Reports found that over half of the samples they tested were tainted with dangerous bacteria, and over 11 samples contained illegal antibiotics. They found MRSA on a few of the samples and vibrio on MANY of the samples. Vibrio is a dangerous pathogenic bacteria which can cause gastroenteritis and septicemia, and can lead to death. Unfortunately, only 0.7% of all imported shrimp is tested on a regular basis when imported into the States.
Why Most Shrimp is So Inexpensive
At the Gig Peeling Factory, nearly 100 Burmese labourers were trapped, most working for almost nothing. They spent 16 hours a day with their aching hands in ice water, ripping the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp. One girl was so tiny she had to stand on a stool to reach the peeling table. Some workers had been there for months, even years. Always, someone was watching.
“They didn’t let us rest,” said Eae Hpaw, 16, her arms a patchwork of scars from shrimp-related infections and allergies. “We stopped working around 7 in the evening. We would take a shower and sleep. Then we would start again around 3 in the morning. (Associated Press, Dec 14, 2015)
The primary reason that imported shrimp is so popular is its incredibly low price point. Of course, this price in no way reflects the true cost of shrimp on the environment or workers. Shrimp prices stay low for two main reasons:
> Shrimp are densely and efficiently raised in antibiotic-laden pools which require little maintenance other than dumping more chemicals and feed in. Fecal waste is not disposed of properly but rather dumped into nearby waterways.
> Many shrimp and seafood companies rely on forced labor to peel their shrimp, particularly in Asian countries like Thailand. As recently as December 2015, the Associated Press was reporting that men, women and children are being sold into slavery to work on shrimp farms in Thailand. These shrimp end up in Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Olive Garden and Red Lobster and other large American chains.
Pay is often around $4 for each 16 hour day and workers are each expected to peel up to 80 kilograms of shrimp, or more, each day. The workers cannot leave, and are not allowed to rest. Thailand has done little to address this slave labor problem, and the United States allows goods from slave labor to enter the US market if there is a “shortage” of that product. It’s difficult to determine what a shortage actually means, but in the case of shrimp, demand is high, and sustainably produced shrimp is more expensive than the average consumer seems to be willing to pay. This loophole in the law (that allows slave-labor produced goods to enter the US market) is being challenged in the Senate and House of Representatives, but so far, no laws have been changed.
Alternatives to Factory Farmed Shrimp
Purchase shrimp that has been harvested sustainably. Thanks to the fantastic Seafood Watch site maintained by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it’s easier than ever to find sustainably-produced shrimp. And simply buying wild-caught shrimp is not enough, as often times wild-caught shrimp catches huge amounts of unintended OTHER animals, called “by-catch”, like turtles and other endangered species. Seafood Watch, however, lists sources of shrimp that ARE safe. Here’s a direct link to the most sustainable shrimp on the market.
My source for seafood that is sustainably and ethically harvested, and always complies with the “best practices” of Seafood Watch, is the online store Vital Choice. I have ordered shrimp as well as albacore tuna from Vital Choice. The seafood arrives in a reusable insulated container and it is DELICIOUS–probably even more so because it wasn’t produced with slave labor. Their unpeeled shrimp is what is known as “spot prawn shrimp” and is harvested in the Pacific waters off of Alaska. They are rated a “best choice” by Seafood Watch.
Vital Choice is a supporter of this blog, and I would appreciate it if you would use the following affiliate link if you decide to purchase from them For a limited time, you can get free shipping when you spend over $99 with them: