Global Aquaculture Issues
The distortion continues
Tuesday,29 May,2012 10:31:08
The recent piece by ABC News on the dangers of shrimp farming is unfortunately just another example of fear mongering.
Residue levels are set by legislation. They are not based on risk. If they were, in fact, based on risk then what they reported (although they did not report the levels) would probably not be an issue at all as it is highly unlikely that any of the residues reported are dangerous to the consumer. The use of antibiotics in any type of aquaculture practice can be done responsibly, and denying farmers access to the tools that they need to ensure that do not lose their crops to disease is irresponsible. There is ample room for responsible use of antibiotics.
Unfortunately, in many parts of the world where shrimp are being farmed, the regulatory apparatus is not as effective as it is in the U.S., and a wide variety of antibiotics are readily available. When aquaculture production is not based on science, which is often the norm in many countries, farmers are more likely to “abuse” antibiotics; abuse being defined as unnecessary or improper use. Some of this is due to the ready access, some is due to unscrupulous salesmen taking advantage of people who do not know better, and some is due to fraud.
This is complicated by the fact that some countries have approved antibiotics for use that the United States has not. This is their right just as it is the right of the U.S. to determine what is not allowed in imported seafood, although it would help all parties if the action levels were based on science and not the need to control the absolute use of any given antibiotic. Responsible use requires that any residues that are present be below the action levels that have been set by the country in which the product will be eaten. Clearly, this is something that is possible to achieve. With 10 percent of the “random” samples being tested being positive, that means that 90 percent were clean. The cost to the consumer as well as to the overall business of shrimp farming to have every container load of shrimp tested should be offset by the risk to the consumer.
It is likely, based on my experience with antibiotics and drug residues in farmed finfish and shrimp, that the levels of residues are likely so small that you could not eat enough shrimp to get a dose that would even remotely be considered harmful. Based on this sampling, to suggest that all shrimp farmers use antibiotics is patently absurd. Thailand happens to be one of the countries that very strongly regulate their use. They understand the need to ensure that their shrimp do not violate standards in the countries to which their product is imported.
To maintain perspective, consider that most foods have naturally occurring carcinogens in them, whether it is a salad, a piece of fruit or a charbroiled steak. The U.S. legally allows peanut butter to be sold with aflatoxins, which is known to cause liver cancer, in it.
No system is perfect. And, yes, people use antibiotics when they should not and they use antibiotics that are better left for use in human disease. It is very unlikely (for all practical purposes the risk is so small as to be zero) that residues from the levels typically observed would harm anyone who consumes farmed shrimp. You are more likely to be harmed by what is present in food naturally and legally. Regulations should be based on science and risk. Responsible journalism should focus on what is real and not make broad generalizations about entire industries because of the actions of a few and should take the time to understand that, at least in this case, the real risks are likely negligible.