Shrimp, shrimp farming, and the environment. Is your meal safe?

Photo courtesy of adactio at

Shrimp are delicious, and the average American eats about 4 lbs of these crustaceans each year. Even though shrimp account for a huge portion of our diet, very few people think about where the shrimp on their dinner table came from. That’s changing as disturbing news about some overseas shrimp farms comes to light.

The majority of shrimp consumed in America come from east Asia. The same countries that gave us milk tainted with chemicals and toys painted with lead are raising the shrimp we eat. A surprising number of these shrimp have traces of harmful chemicals, pesticides, and bacteria. Shrimp that are raised in Vietnam, China, Thailand, Indonesia and other associated areas are generally raised in conditions that would not pass inspection in the United States.

One of the scarier chemicals found in shrimp farms is chloramphenicol. This is an ultra-strong antibacterial agent that shrimp farmers use to control disease in overcrowded conditions. It has been banned in the west for decades because it causes blood disorders and has no safe level of exposure. Chloramphenicol isn’t the only dangerous antibiotic used on shrimp farms. Other antibiotics have been tied to liver failure, cancer, and toxic shock.

Shrimp farming can also have a devastating effect on the environment. Coastal areas that are suited for shrimp farms are very sensitive. They often have species that are threatened by other forms of development, and the fish farms produce a lot of pollution. Some shrimp farms have been caught using abusive labor practices and even slave workers.

Since 2005, seafood has been required to carry a “country of origin” sticker. This simple label makes it a lot easier to spot potentially dangerous shrimp.

Shrimp is the No. 1 seafood choice in the United States, and nearly 90 percent of it is imported. About 80 percent of the shrimp imported from foreign markets is farm-raised…

So, how can we protect ourselves from tainted shrimp? In the grocery store, US raised and wild caught shrimp are good places to start. At the restaurant, ask owners the origin of shrimp they serve. Encourage suppliers to certify the sustainability of their shrimp with the Marine Stewardship Council. Or, you could try raising your own shrimp!

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  1. […] The Practical Environmentalist points out that much of our shrimp comes from “the same countries that gave us milk tainted with chemicals and toys painted with lead.” Among other liver-damaging antibiotics, chloramphenicol is used on shrimp farms in these countries—an antibacterial chemical you aren’t exactly ignorant for not having heard of, considering it is banned in the U.S. and much of the west because of its toxic effects on the body and is blamed for often-fatal blood disorders. […]

  2. If shrimp from Thailand is from poluted waters, and is unsafe to eat, how can supermarkets get away with selling it?

  3. That’s a very good question. And why are we even ALLOWED to import this stuff in the first place? Same with all the poisonous, lead-laden crap from China. The media doesn’t put these dangers in the spotlight nearly as often as they should. American consumers aren’t educated at all on this stuff, which is why our own manufacturing jobs are gone, no one realizes that stuff coming from other countries is really bad for everyone on every level. Our health, the economy, the environment.

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  5. This is a very interesting article, and I will definitely be leery of imported shrimp from now on. That being said, there’s just a smidge of hyperbole in saying shrimp is a “huge part of our diet” because we eat 4 pounds of it a year. According to a quick search, the average American eats nearly 2,000 pounds of food annually. 4/2000 = shrimp constitutes .002% of our diet. Sure, 4 pounds’ worth of contaminants might still affect health, but the statement is misleading.

  6. The real reason Imported seafood is so popular is the price. Lets face it, A pound of 16-20 count shrimp from overseas cost $8.99 vs $17.99 in the states. all the major chains in the USA use seafood from other countries. Thats just the facts.

  7. I don’t buy imported shrimp period. I’ve heard they suspend chickens in cages over the water and their fesces is what feeds the fish, shrimp etc below. But where does one find shrimp in Canadian grocery stores that is not from China, Vietnam etc? I have yet to find some in any grocery stores near me.

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