Report: Shrimp imported to EU is safe to eat

Published on
October 29, 2018

Imported farmed shrimp is as safe to eat as any other seafood product available in European markets, according to new research conducted by scientists at the University of Stirling.

Using European Union data to perform a risk assessment on shrimp imports, researchers Dave Little and Richard Newton of Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture, working with colleagues at Shanghai Ocean University, also found that shrimp imports have become much safer to consume in recent years. 

"Farmed shrimp imported to the E.U. has a reputation among some consumer groups as being of low quality and this is sometimes reflected in the mainstream press, as well as on the internet,” Newton said. "Over several decades – since farmed shrimp imports first appeared on supermarket shelves – a negative narrative has grown over environmental and social malpractice. This has included claims that tropical farmed shrimp are grown in polluted water and treated with large quantities of chemicals, which can be harmful to human health."

The researchers performed a risk assessment of shrimp imports that allowed them to calculate the amount an average adult would need to consume to surpass the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for any particular harmful substance. Newton and the team analyzed 18 years of data from the E.U.'s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), which contains information on food and feed imports that have been found to contain banned or excessive quantities of substances, and subsequently removed from the market.

Based on the information in the RASFF database covering 1998 to 2015, the study found that consumers would need to eat more than 300 grams of shrimp per day to exceed the ADI for antimicrobials, Newton explained.

The research also identified shortcomings in the RASFF system when it comes to determining ADIs, with the scientists concluding that in reality the ADI is likely to be "much higher" than the 300 grams calculated because the RASFF database only contains information on contaminated shrimp and not those available to consumers. 

"This means that imported farmed shrimp are no less safe than any other seafood product,” Newton said.

Over the 18-year period, the number of alerts dropped markedly despite shrimp imports increasing, meaning that shrimp have become much safer to consumers as exporting countries meet the safety demands of importers more effectively. 

The research found that numbers peaked in 2002, in relation to large numbers of consignments contaminated with antimicrobials. The researchers compared the RASFF data with coverage on shrimp that appeared in mainstream media over the same period and found that it tracked closely with the number of alerts, which are now a fraction of what they were in 2002.

However, the researchers found that information available on the internet has continued the negative narrative, which is based on practices mostly phased out and does not reflect improvements that have been made in the industry. They noted that many websites promoted the consumption of local, wild-caught species in favor of imports, despite some evidence showing that wild shrimp can also be contaminated with various harmful substances, and have ethical and environmental impact issues.

The study concluded that there was scope for the RASFF system to be improved to allow a better understanding of risk associated with food consumption, and also highlighted a need for standardizing testing procedures throughout E.U. member states, as well as third-parties.

The research was funded by the Seafood Importers and Processors Alliance.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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