Op-Ed: GAA responds to misleading Dr. Oz Show report on tilapia aquaculture
In an article published on 6 November, SeafoodSource detailed claims made by Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of daytime television talk show The Dr. Oz Show, that unsanitary conditions are widespread in China’s tilapia aquaculture sector.
Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) Communications Manager Steven Hedlund submitted the following letter to SeafoodSource in response to the segment, titled “Supermarket Seafood: What You Need to Know About the World’s Most Affordable and Widely Available Fish,” which aired on The Dr. Oz Show on 2 November.
Though GAA appreciates that its industry-leading third-party certification program, Best Aquaculture Practices, was cited in the segment, we respectfully disagree with the way the segment portrayed the tilapia-farming and -processing industry.
“It is unfortunate that someone as prominent as Dr. Oz is telling Americans to avoid certain kinds of seafood, specifically Chinese tilapia. Statements like this just cause confusion and tend to cause consumers to avoid seafood altogether. In addition, BAP-certified tilapia from China comes from some of the best farms and processing plants in the world,” said Steven Hart, Ph.D., vice president of GAA, who leads the organization’s responsible aquaculture development efforts in China. “I would challenge Dr. Oz to visit a BAP-certified tilapia farm and processing plant to learn about the rigorous requirements they put themselves through to assure they are using responsible and sustainable production practices. I think the ultimate endorsement I can give to BAP tilapia producers is the fact that I put my money where my mouth is and feed my family Chinese tilapia at least weekly.”
GAA seeks to correct a number of inaccuracies voiced by Dr. Mehmet Oz and author Larry Olmsted, who appeared in the segment:
- The video footage displayed by Dr. Oz and Mr. Olmsted is not reflective of the conditions under which tilapia are raised in China by companies that export the fish internationally, especially by companies engaged in the BAP program. Also, nowhere in the segment does Dr. Oz or Mr. Olmstead cite the origin of video footage.
- The classification of tilapia as a “factory fish” is lazy. BAP-certified tilapia farms and processing plants are held to stringent standards addressing such issues as pond stocking density, water quality, and sanitation. Much of that product is sold at prominent supermarket and restaurant chains in the United States.
- China is unfairly singled out as a bad player in the tilapia-farming industry, which is inaccurate and unfounded. Mr. Olmsted contradicts himself by advising viewers to avoid eating tilapia from China and Southeast Asia while simultaneously recommending tilapia from BAP-certified farms and processing plants when China has embraced the BAP program, boasting more than 70 BAP-certified tilapia farms and about 50 BAP-certified tilapia processing plants, more than any other country. All BAP-certified farms, processing plants, hatcheries and feed mills are held to the same stringent standards, leveling the playing field across all countries.
- Dr. Oz continually makes the claim that tilapia is “not healthy,” which is unfounded. He also falsely speculates that tilapia are lower in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than other species such as salmon because they are fed feed. However, the species, not the production method, is the determining factor in a fish’s omega-3 levels.
- Mr. Olmsted cited a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, noting that tilapia are raised in “overcrowded, dirty ponds.” He failed to mention that the USDA report is from 2009 and that nowhere in outdated report were tilapia-farming practices in China specifically cited as a concern.
GAA encourages Dr. Oz and Mr. Olmsted to visit any BAP-certified farm or processing plant to learn more about responsibly farmed and processed tilapia. We also encourage Dr. Oz and Mr. Olmsted to watch a recently released video featuring China tilapia-farming and -processing company Hainan Xiangtai Fishery Co. Ltd. In the video, Mr. Liu Ronnie, the company’s president, and his daughter, Angelina, talk about the importance of responsible and sustainable aquaculture, the growth and development of a family-owned business, and tilapia’s role in providing a nutritious and affordable protein to consumers worldwide.
BAP is an international certification program based on achievable, science-based and continuously improved performance standards for the entire aquaculture supply chain – farms, hatcheries, processing plants and feed mills – that assure healthful foods produced through environmentally and socially responsible means. BAP certification is based on independent audits that evaluate compliance with the BAP standards developed by the GAA. Learn more at https://bapcertification.org/about.