GAA: CBC report on antibiotics in shrimp misleading

Published on
March 25, 2019

The Global Aquaculture Alliance is criticizing a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that linked imported farmed shrimp with antimicrobial resistance as misleading.

After testing 51 frozen shrimp products from major grocery stores across Canada, CBC Marketplace found that 17 percent carried bacteria, such as E.coli and staph aureus, that were resistant to at least one antibiotic. The report included stories from ill patients battling infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

While antimicrobial resistance is a “serious issue,” it is “misleading and damaging to single out imported shrimp,” Steven Hedlund, communications manager at GAA, told SeafoodSource. “Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria is naturally occurring in the environment, so we don’t know if the contamination even occurred at the farm level – that was really a leap.”

Similarly, the National Fisheries Institute, which represents the U.S. seafood industry, is concerned about the issue of antimicrobial resistance, but doesn’t agree with specifically calling out imported shrimp, NFI Vice President of Communications Gavin Gibbons told SeafoodSource.

“We expect to see some level of bacteria on raw products generally and these products were raw and designed to be cooked but the larger issue, globally, is antibacterial resistance. It is a real issue and should be addressed; a singular focus on one product is not the solution to this challenge,” he said.

CBC Marketplace conducted an interview with GAA President George Chamberlain, but the program did not include any of his comments in its report, which aired on 15 March. 

“We were pretty disappointed in that,” Hedlund said.

At Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts, 17 to 19 March, several Canadian shrimp importers looked to GAA for advice after their customers asked questions about the report.

GAA is providing a document for its members with answers to frequently-asked questions about antibiotic resistance in seafood, as well as the statement the organization provided to the CBC, and its blog post on the issue, Hedlund said.

In addition, through an independent analysis of the testing methodology that CBC relied upon, GAA discovered that the presence of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria on the shrimp products cannot be definitively linked to the misuse of antimicrobials on the farms of origin, according to its blog post.

“The spread of resistant clones is never monodirectional, and it occurs between different compartments as they overlap. Therefore, it is not scientifically accurate to say that the presence of AMR bacteria is linked back solely to farming practices,” the analysis found.

In addition, the sample size was too small to determine prevalence, the report found.

“Long-term trends also need to be compared to antibiotic-use data in both humans and animals. This is not possible with the results presented by CBC,” the blog post stated.

Plus, when products are cooked or frozen, the risk of bacterial contamination “greatly declines,” the blog post said. 

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