Shrimp’s Dirty Secrets: Why America’s Favorite Seafood Is a Health and Environmental Nightmare

– Not my first post on this subject.  See: also.

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The environmental impact of shrimp can be horrific. But most Americans don’t know where their shrimp comes from or what’s in it.

Americans love their shrimp. It’s the most popular seafood in the country, but unfortunately much of the shrimp we eat are a cocktail of chemicals, harvested at the expense of one of the world’s productive ecosystems. Worse, guidelines for finding some kind of “sustainable shrimp” are so far nonexistent.

In his book, Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, Taras Grescoe paints a repulsive picture of how shrimp are farmed in one region of India. The shrimp pond preparation begins with urea, superphosphate, and diesel, then progresses to the use of piscicides (fish-killing chemicals like chlorine and rotenone), pesticides and antibiotics (including some that are banned in the U.S.), and ends by treating the shrimp with sodium tripolyphosphate (a suspected neurotoxicant), Borax, and occasionally caustic soda.

Upon arrival in the U.S., few if any, are inspected by the FDA, and when researchers have examined imported ready-to-eat shrimp, they found 162 separate species of bacteria with resistance to 10 different antibiotics. And yet, as of 2008, Americans are eating 4.1 pounds of shrimp apiece each year — significantly more than the 2.8 pounds per year we each ate of the second most popular seafood, canned tuna. But what are we actually eating without knowing it? And is it worth the price — both to our health and the environment?


– Research thanks to Michael M.

One Response to “Shrimp’s Dirty Secrets: Why America’s Favorite Seafood Is a Health and Environmental Nightmare”

  1. john k says:

    The overseas shrimp farms are a response to two things: one, the world’s gluttonous appetite for shrimp. And, two, the toll that destructive harvesting practices had–and still have–on natural ecosystems, leading to collapse of those ecosystems and wild shrimp populations. Throw in the World Trade Organization’s promotion of international trade with few environmental protections, lo!, your shrimp scampi is poison.

    I haven’t eaten the stuff for years. Naturally, my choices have had no effect on the consumption of shrimp. Until enough people get sick or die from eating nasty shrimp, these practices will continue.

    Thanks for bringing attention to the issue.