The Hidden Cost of Cheap Shrimp: Coral Reef Damage, Mangrove Destruction, Labour Abuse and Health Problems

Cheap Shrimp: Hidden Costs (Introduction) from UBCjournalism on Vimeo.

Shrimp used to be a delicacy; now they are ubiquitous and cheap. TreeHugger has noted that farmed shrimp are "one of the most destructive means by which humans produce food." Now a new investigative report by the University of British Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism looks at the shrimp industry in Thailand in terms of coral reef damage, mangrove destruction, labour abuses, and health consequences. The Globe and Mail picks up the story:

Cheap Shrimp: Hidden Costs (Health) from UBCjournalism on Vimeo.


Jessica Leeder writes in the Globe about what recent checks found in Thai shrimp:

Inspectors are still finding tetracyclines (antibiotics commonly used to treat acne) nitrofurans (an antimicrobial drug and known carcinogen banned in Canada) and fluoroquinolones (broad-spectrum antibiotics used in human medicine) in the shipments they test. None should be consumed by humans.

She notes that things are getting better (particularly since Walmart started focusing on the issue, and that antibiotic use has dropped significantly. But as Peter Brison of Seafood watch noted,

That doesn't mean to say it's good now," said Mr. Bridson, who also sits on the Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue steering committee. "It's just that it was horrific before."

Back at the UBC School of Journalism site, the students tell the remarkable backstory.

We were thrown into the role of foreign correspondents and videographers. Our class conducted and filmed interviews with industry leaders and critics, government ministers, and the illegal migrants who are the backbone of the industry.

Upon our return, we spent months building a multimedia story, drawing from more than 100 hours of footage we shot in the field.


Besides the captivating video, they also list some of the issues about farmed fish and your health:


  • The majority of shrimp we eat is farmed, imported from countries in Asia, like Thailand, Vietnam, and China.

  • Shrimp in these nations can be raised in densely-packed ponds, which are susceptible to outbreaks of disease. To prevent this from happening, farmers often turn to antibiotics - some of which pose health risks to consumers.

  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspects a maximum of 5 percent of imported foods. In 2010, the agency rejected several seafood shipments from Asia for containing nitrofurans, a known carcinogen. Other shipments were rejected for containing tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones, two valuable antibiotics used to treat a wide range of infections, including chlamydia and anthrax.

  • The misuse and overuse of antibiotics in food production can also lead to antibiotic resistant pathogens in shrimp. Through consuming raw shrimp, resistant strains can be passed on to humans.

  • Resistant strains can also spread as a result of farmers handling shrimp infected with drug-resistant bacteria.

  • In recent years, there has been a severe lack of newly discovered drugs for treating human infections and the rate of antibiotic resistance has increased globally - a problem the medical community recognizes as a serious threat to humankind.

More at Cheap Shrimp: Hidden costs
More on Shrimp:
Do I Dare to Eat a Shrimp?
Review: Bottomfeeder: How To Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood
St. Lawrence Shrimp Fishery Certified Sustainable
'Y'all Ain't Gonna Be Able To Eat Shrimp Like You Used To & We Ain't Gonna Be Able to Catch It' (Video)

Tags: Food Safety

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