Shrimp’s Dirty Secrets: Why Our Favorite Seafood Is a Health and Environmental Nightmare

Do you love shrimp? If you do, you are certainly not alone.

I used to love eating them too.

Until I learned about the environmental impact of catching and farming shrimp.

Truth is the impact of bringing shrimp to our tables to satisfy our taste can be horrific.

But most Americans don’t know where their shrimp comes from or what’s in it.

Read this, and your appetite for shrimp (and other seafood) will dwindle.

“Americans love their shrimp. It’s the most popular seafood in the country, but unfortunately much of the shrimp we eat are a cocktail of chemicals, harvested at the expense of one of the world’s productive ecosystems. Worse, guidelines for finding some kind of “sustainable shrimp” are so far nonexistent.

In his book, Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, Taras Grescoe paints a repulsive picture of how shrimp are farmed in one region of India. The shrimp pond preparation begins with urea, superphosphate, and diesel, then progresses to the use of piscicides (fish-killing chemicals like chlorine and rotenone), pesticides and antibiotics (including some that are banned in the U.S.), and ends by treating the shrimp with sodium tripolyphosphate (a suspected neurotoxicant), Borax, and occasionally caustic soda.

Upon arrival in the U.S., few if any, are inspected by the FDA, and when researchers have examined imported ready-to-eat shrimp, they found 162 separate species of bacteria with resistance to 10 different antibiotics. And yet, as of 2008, Americans are eating 4.1 pounds of shrimp apiece each year — significantly more than the 2.8 pounds per year we each ate of the second most popular seafood, canned tuna. But what are we actually eating without knowing it? And is it worth the price — both to our health and the environment?

Understanding the shrimp that supplies our nation’s voracious appetite is quite complex. Overall, the shrimp industry represents a dismantling of the marine ecosystem, piece by piece. Farming methods range from those described above to some that are more benign.

Problems with irresponsible methods of farming don’t end at the “yuck,” factor as shrimp farming is credited with destroying 38 percent of the world’s mangroves, some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Some compare shrimp farming methods that demolish mangroves to slash-and-burn agriculture. A shrimp farmer will clear a section of mangroves and close it off to ensure that the shrimp cannot escape. Then the farmer relies on the tides to refresh the water, carrying shrimp excrement and disease out to sea. In this scenario, the entire mangrove ecosystem is destroyed and turned into a small dead zone for short-term gain. Even after the shrimp farm leaves, the mangroves do not come back.

A more responsible farming system involves closed, inland ponds that use their wastewater for agricultural irrigation instead of allowing it to pollute oceans or other waterways. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, when a farm has good disease management protocols, it does not need to use so many antibiotics or other chemicals.

One more consideration, even in these cleaner systems, is the wild fish used to feed farmed shrimp. An estimated average of 1.4 pounds of wild fish are used to produce every pound of farmed shrimp. Sometimes the wild fish used is bycatch — fish that would be dumped into the ocean to rot if they weren’t fed to shrimp — but other times farmed shrimp dine on species like anchovies, herring, sardines and menhaden. These fish are important foods for seabirds, big commercial fish and whales, so removing them from the ecosystem to feed farmed shrimp is problematic.

Additionally, some shrimp are wild-caught, and while they aren’t raised in a chemical cocktail, the vast majority is caught using trawling, a highly destructive fishing method. Football field-sized nets are dragged along the ocean floor, scooping up and killing several pounds of marine life for every pound of shrimp they catch and demolishing the ocean floor ecosystem as they go. Where they don’t clear-cut coral reefs or other rich ocean floor habitats, they drag their nets through the mud, leaving plumes of sediment so large they are visible from outer space.

After trawling destroys an ocean floor, the ecosystem often cannot recover for decades, if not centuries or millennia. This is particularly significant because 98 percent of ocean life lives on or around the seabed. Depending on the fishery, the amount of bycatch (the term used for unwanted species scooped up and killed by trawlers) ranges from five to 20 pounds per pound of shrimp. These include sharks, rays, starfish, juvenile red snapper, sea turtles and more. While shrimp trawl fisheries only represent 2 percent of the global fish catch, they are responsible for over one-third of the world’s bycatch.

Trawling is comparable to bulldozing an entire section of rainforest in order to catch one species of bird.”

Via Alternet by Jill Richardson

The article fails to mention shrimp produced in the New Orleans Delta. In addition to the recent oil spill, the whole area is an ecological disaster due to the dead zone. The dead zone is caused primarily by herbicide & fertilizer run off from the Mississippi watershed.

Here is what one fisherman says about fishing in the delta:

“Years ago, to raise money for repairs to my sailboat, I took a job as a deck hand on a shrimp trawler, a North Carolina boat operating out of Key West. Along with about 50 other boats based there, we trawled in the Gulf of Mexico for roughly two week trip periods and two of those trips were all I could stand in realizing the incredible environmental damage being done.

The ratio of what’s euphemistically called “trash” to shrimp when dumped on deck, representing the full spectrum of other marine life, is more like 50 lbs. to 1. Heavy chains weigh the nets to the bottom and drag clearing everything but heavy obstructions. A large following of sharks accompany every trawler lured by a seeping wake of fish oil and feed voraciously when the catch is culled by hand and the “trash” pushed overboard. (One does not want to lose one’s footing on a pitching deck.) This process continues repeatedly all night, every night.

I could go on about how many other environmental abuses occur in this one fishery. Like the hate for sea turtles that foul nets which are frequently killed when extracted if they’re not drowned by the trawl itself, and the bored captains that shoot anything that moves for sport with the automatic armory that each vessel carries in defense of piracy threats, and the violations of trawling through designated fish nurseries, and the dumping of chemicals used in boat maintenance, and more.

It’s a nasty, exploitative, destructive stomach turning process like so many other short sighted, greed driven and poorly regulated industries. Pound of destruction for pound of product it’s about as bad as it gets.”

At one point in the article Jill Richardson asks the question:

“Given this disturbing picture, how can an American know how to find responsibly farmed or fished shrimp?” and responds “Currently, it’s near impossible.”

I disagree.

Just don’t eat shrimp. It’s really that simple.

Read My New Ebook: Truth About Eating Fish and Fish Oil

You may be rolling your eyes at another “truth” being exposed, but I challenge you to read my new ebook and tell me you did not learn something new.


Read the entire book: The Truth About Eating Fish and Fish Oil

Coming soon to Amazon Kindle!

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

If you have a favorite recipe, why not submit it here in the comment section of this smoothie recipes blog for others to enjoy too!

I also welcome any comments, questions and suggestions. Thanks!

Toxic Chemicals and Disease: Are Our Children Canaries in a Coal Mine?

“Canary in a coal mine” is allusion to caged canaries mining workers would carry down into the tunnels with them. If toxic gases such as methane or carbon monoxide were present into the mine-shaft, the gases would kill the canary before affecting the miners. Signs of distress from the bird indicated to the miners that conditions were unsafe.

Hence, the phrase “canary in a coal mine” is frequently used to refer to a person or thing which serves as an early warning of a coming crisis.

Our environment contains a growing list of chemicals, many of which are known causes of human illnesses.

From the water we drink, to the air we breathe, to the food we eat, we are being exposed to hundreds to synthetic chemical compounds that are brand new to our planet that did not even exist 20 years ago.

Are our children like “canaries in a coal mine” in the increasingly toxic world we live in?

One thing that we can all do is to get educated and start taking action. Toxic Substances Control Act
Just like canaries, our children are significantly more vulnerable than adults, as these chemicals affect their developing bodies in more ways that are still difficult to fathom.

So, our children are growing up as a part of a giant experiment with potentially devastating consequences.

How will these chemicals affect their development, their health, their ability to achieve their full potential? Will our children end up paying the price for our negligence for the rest of their lives?

And is there anything that we do about it?

Step 1: Ignorance Is NOT Bliss

Step one is to get educated about the problem.

Ignorance is NOT bliss when it comes to our health. Not knowing about a disturbing issue will NOT cause it to go away!

Did you know that of 60,000+ chemicals that were grandfathered by TSCA law only about 200 were ever tested for safety directly by the EPA? 

The Toxic Substances Control Act (ToSCA) of 1976 mandated the EPA to protect the public from “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment” by regulating the manufacture and sale of chemicals. One might think that Environmental Protection Agency exists to protect the public from dangerous and potentially carcinogenic substances, but thousands of chemicals were never tested by the EPA because they were not considered an “unreasonable risk.”

So, contrary to what the name implies, TSCA does not separate chemicals into categories of toxic and non-toxic. Rather it prohibits the manufacture or importation of new chemicals that are not on the TSCA 60,000+ Inventory grandfathered when the law was passed!

As a parent I find it deeply disturbing, not to say scary.

Listen to the interview with a world-renowned pediatrician and environmental health expert Dr. Leo Trasande, who will explain how chemical exposures put our kids at risk, how much environmentally-mediated illness costs our nation, and what steps we can take to protect our children from harm.

Listen to the Green Street Radio or download the mp3 file here here.

Of course, there is huge money at stake for the manufacturers. The titans of the cosmetics industry are hard at work fighting common sense laws that would keep toxic chemicals out of everything from bubble bath, mattresses, clothing to lipstick.

But the costs to the society and the environment that we are all paying can no longer be ignored.

Step 2: Start Taking Action

Starting with the smallest action – “voting with your purse” and not buying the products that contain toxic ingredients. Many of the toxic cleaning products can be easily substituted with safer alternatives, for example, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice are great for household cleaning needs.

But ultimately we can’t shop our way out of this problem.

Help spread the message – tell others about what you learned.

Write to the companies that are using toxic products to let them know your concerns.

Write to your elected officials demanding their support for the bills that promote positive change.

Join or support an organization working to increase public awareness and change the laws.

Our children are completely dependent on us to take action and make the right decisions for them!

More Resources:

Tell Congress to Stop Industry’s Trojan Horse Bill  “The Cosmetic Safety Amendments Act of 2012” was recently introduced by Representative Leonard Lance (R-NJ). According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics organization “This is a classic Trojan horse – it may sound like a step forward on the surface but the “fine print” inside the bill would allow industry to continue placing profits over public health.  This bill would put into law the current system that allows the industry to “self-regulate” the safety of cosmetics which has resulted in carcinogens in baby shampoo, lead in lipstick, formaldehyde in hair products, hormone disruptors in fragrance and mercury in face creams. It would also handcuff states from taking action to pass locally tailored policies to protect the health of their own state residents. ”

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition effort launched in 2004 to protect the health of consumers and workers by securing the corporate, regulatory and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products.

EWG’s Skin Deep database: EWG’s Skin Deep database gives you practical solutions to protect yourself and your family from everyday exposures to chemicals.

Toxic Chemicals in the Enviroment

Toxic Chemicals in the Enviroment : How do they affect our kids and what can we do about it?

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

If you have a favorite recipe, why not submit it here in the comment section of this smoothie recipes blog for others to enjoy too!

I also welcome any comments, questions and suggestions. Thanks!