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Yellow journalism is alive and well…unfortunately
Friday,9 March,2012 07:56:00
I recently was pointed in the direction of a short film produced by a major NGO about shrimp farming in Thailand. I am amazed at how an organization of this stature can be so far from seeing the reality and repeat the fallacies that others have.
The film makes it look like shrimp farmers in Thailand have cut down large areas of mangroves to build their farms. While there is no doubt that some mangroves were cut, this was a long time ago and is no longer standard practice and has not been for many years. To suggest that shrimp farming is the major culprit in cutting mangroves is not only false but totally irresponsible. Most of the mangroves were cut to provide fuel for use as charcoal to cook food. This is well documented. Soils that support mangroves make lousy shrimp farms. Most of Thailand’s shrimp farmers follow a code of conduct that does not allow mangroves to be cut with few exceptions and it is common to see companies planting mangroves to compensate for those that were cut often planting many times the few that might have been removed.
The film also suggests that drug use is wide spread and points to a bag that contains a mixture of microbes as a potential source of antibiotics. This is nonsense. The addition of microbes to ponds, while often of little use, is a benign practice that does not involve the use of antibiotics. The use of antibiotics in Thailand is tightly regulated and it is simply not true that it is a common practice. The Thailand Department of Fisheries along with their FDA equivalent are aware of international bans on the use of specific antibiotics and while there likely is some use, the vast majority of shrimp farmers do not use antibiotics at any time during the rearing cycle.
The use of Burmese workers is also brought up and it is suggested that slave labor is used and that they are housed under deplorable conditions. Again this is wrong. While it would be naïve for one to think that there are not cases where this does occur, it is far from the norm. There are many Burmese workers in processing plants. They are there because they will work for less money than Thai workers, although they must be paid the legal minimum wage. They may live on the plant grounds and by Western standards they may not be housed in luxurious accommodations but by local standards however they are comfortable and their presence is regulated by the government. They have to have government permission to work and they can quit any time that they want. In some cases they may be subcontracted and these subcontractors are also regulated.
Why can’t these NGO’s print and film the truth? Why do they persist in making it look like the worst is the norm? There are a lot of honest, hard working people that depend on shrimp farming for their livelihoods. Reporting of this nature can hurt them economically and reinforces the negative stereotype that some NGO’s seem to want. It is confrontational in nature and ensures that an us versus them mentality persists. There is nothing wrong with finding that these are not perfect systems but we would all be better off if this was done in a truthful manner and not whitewashing an entire industry because of a few bad players.