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The Dangers of Farm Raised Shrimp

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You’ve heard about the dangers of farm-raised tilapia, but what about shrimp? The seafood staple is a hit in the U.S., but will it prove harmful to your health?

In 2005, the USDA imposed regulations that require manufacturers to put labels on their products indicating whether the shrimp were farm-raised or wild-caught. However, due to a loophole that doesn’t require “processed” seafood to be labeled, about half of the shrimp we eat is not labeled! Even more worrisome, 90% of shrimp sellers, including restaurants, are not required to label.

So, what exactly are the risks of farm-raised shrimp? In a nutshell, the major concerns are salmonella, antibiotics, bacteria, parasites, and chemical residues. Often, conditions on shrimp farms are unsanitary and frequently lead to the U.S. refusing shrimp imports for reasons of “filth.” The most significant dangers are posed by internationally farm-raised shrimp. At shrimp farms in locales such as Southeast Asia, overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions create a largely unstable environment, full of viruses and bacteria. To discourage disease, the shrimp pools are pumped with antibiotics and chemicals – some of which are actually illegal in the United States. The shrimp are frozen as they are transported, but this doesn’t always kill the chemicals or viruses. The FDA is charged with testing the shrimp when they arrive in the United States, but inspection guidelines aren’t as stringent as consumers might like, so various watchdog organizations have cropped up to try to prevent potential harms.

So, are you convinced yet that you should be opting for wild-caught shrimp? Though it’s more difficult (and can be much more expensive) it is definitely possible. When purchasing shrimp at a wholesale market or restaurant, ask whether the shrimp is fresh-caught or farm-raised. If they don’t know, ask them to try to find out – or go for another entrée. Lobby the FDA for stricter inspection guidelines, Congress for better import regulation, and the USDA to expand the labeling requirements. It’s a little bit more work, but the payoff is your health!

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