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Too Little is Known About the Health Consequences of Eating Farm-Raised Shrimp

Dec. 9, 2004

Too Little is Known About the Health Consequences of Eating Farm-Raised Shrimp

Public Citizen Cautions Shrimp Lovers to Learn How Shrimp is Produced

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Most of the shrimp that consumers buy and eat in the United States is imported from polluted ponds in tropical countries and may contain chemicals banned from shrimp farming in the United States, according to a new report by Public Citizen.  The consumer group urged shrimp lovers to think twice when buying shrimp in the grocery stores, to check the label to see whether it is farm-raised and to ask questions in restaurants about where the shrimp on their menus is produced.

The report, Chemical Cocktail: The Health Impacts of Eating Farm-Raised Shrimp, is the second in a series that documents the dangers of shrimp aquaculture. 

Shrimp aquaculture uses a factory-farming model that douses shrimp with pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals. Shrimp is the No. 1 seafood choice in the United States, and nearly 90 percent of it is imported.  About 80 percent of the shrimp imported from foreign markets is farm-raised.

“Every time you take a bite of shrimp, you may be ingesting a lot more than you’ve bargained for,” said Andrianna Natsoulas, field director at Public Citizen’s food program. “That shrimp cocktail that looks so appetizing could be a chemical cocktail in disguise.”

Shrimp farms depend on staggering amounts of antibiotics, fungicides, algaecides and pesticides.   Over time, bacteria exposed to antibiotics may become more resistant to those antibiotics, and patients infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be more difficult to treat. 

Unfortunately, while many of the antibiotics used as part of the factory farming of shrimp are banned in the United States, they are being used in other shrimp-producing countries, and residues of U.S.-banned antibiotics have been detected in farmed shrimp and other seafood shipped from Asia to the United States and Europe. Only 1-2 percent of seafood is inspected at the border.

“There’s a reason our government bans certain drugs, and studies have shown that many of the antibiotics found in imported shrimp are dangerous to our health,” said Natsoulas.   “It’s time for our government to take action to protect us.  We call on the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen its inspection of imported seafood.”

By spring 2005, consumers will be able to make more informed decisions because a mandatory country-of-origin label for seafood will be required by law.  This label will tell consumers where shrimp comes from and whether it is farm-raised or wild-caught. This label will apply only to grocery stores, but consumers also should ask restaurants where they buy their shrimp.