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Public Citizen Launches New Campaign to Warn Consumers of Health Effects and Social Concerns of Farmed Shrimp

April 20, 2004

Public Citizen Launches New Campaign to Warn Consumers of Health Effects and Social Concerns of Farmed Shrimp

Popular Latin American Activist Joins U.S. Organization During World Bank Protests to Educate Consumers on Shrimp Aquaculture

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Using this week’s World Bank protests as a launching pad, Public Citizen today announced a new campaign aimed at educating U.S. consumers about the myriad environmental, health and economic problems surrounding farm-raised shrimp. The consumer advocacy organization will highlight the real costs of shrimp, which has become the most popular seafood choice in the United States.

In 2003, 1.1 billion pounds of shrimp, worth nearly $3.8 billion, were imported to the United States from as far away as Thailand. Foreign, farm-raised shrimp comprises 80-90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States, and it typically is not labeled as farm-raised. Top producers include Brazil, China, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam. Popularized in restaurants like Red Lobster, the cheap, farm-raised shrimp often sell for less than $10 a pound, enticing consumers to eat large amounts of what was once considered a delicacy.

“Shrimp aquaculture is following the path of the greater industrial food model, which means profits are being prioritized over consumer benefits,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s food safety program. “Our campaign will focus on urging consumers to buy sustainably caught shrimp to better benefit their health.”

Farmers raise shrimp in large, polluted coastal ponds, continuously pumping sea and groundwater to keep the ponds cleaner. Because diseases run rampant, these farms depend on staggering amounts of antibiotics, fungicides and pesticides. The continual, long-term use of antibiotics breeds disease-resistant bacteria, which can later be spread to humans.

“Shrimp farms produce a wretched cocktail of chemicals, shrimp feed and shrimp feces,” said Andrianna Natsoulas, field director for Public Citizen’s new shrimp campaign. “We want consumers to understand the real cost of shrimp and what it’s doing to their health.”

Wild-caught shrimp from U.S. seacoasts such as North Carolina and California do not pose the same health risks as farm-raised shrimp, Natsoulas said.

To assist in the launch of the campaign, well-known Honduran shrimp activist Jorge Varela is in Washington, D.C., during the week of protests leading to the World Bank’s spring meeting, scheduled for April 24 and 25, to conduct educational workshops on shrimp aquaculture. For 15 years, Varela has worked to expose the World Bank’s promotion of shrimp aquaculture in Honduras. He co-founded The Committee for the Defense and Development of Flora and Fauna of the Gulf of Fonseca (CODDEFFAGOLF) in 1988, as part of an emerging grassroots movement challenging the appropriation of natural resources.

Between 1995 and 1998, the Honduran government enacted several moratoria on the construction of new shrimp farms, citing environmental destruction to coastal communities; however, international investors, the World Bank and other international finance institutions prevented the execution of these moratoria by cautioning the Honduran government that the Honduran economy could be harmed if it reduced one of its larger export industries.

“World Bank officials disrespected our national laws by continuing to finance shrimp expansion despite the shrimp farming moratoria,” Varela said. “Honduras has become a classic example of what is happening in many of the countries that produce farm-raised shrimp.”

For more information about Public Citizen’s shrimp campaign, and to download an educational brochure and more information about Varela, please go to www.shrimpactivist.org.