February 8, 2009

sourcing shrimp

For the past few weeks I've been working on a project deadline, and therefore my dinner preparation has been really lame. I saw one of those "20-minute recipes" in a magazine and thought I might as well try it. It was a shrimp and couscous dish, which I hoped would appeal to my family.

I bought the shrimp at Whole Foods, made the meal, cleaned the kitchen, put the kids in bed, and only then decided I should find out if shrimp are actually a good thing to be eating.

First, I read an enlightening article about shrimp (prawn) farming in Asia. Shrimp are a huge crop in that region. While it seems governments try to regulate safety standards, it is a pretty gnarly industry. In the article, an author of a book about the fishing industry is quoted as saying, "he thinks farmed prawn is the most disgusting of all the industrial farmed products - worse than salmon, worse than battery chicken. And he won't eat them." The article continues, "Bad prawn farming is caused by the same things as bad chicken farming - the relentless downward pressure on prices forced on producers by supermarkets. So, there's a good reason to buy organic."

Which makes me wonder, what sources are there for safer prawns? Do they even sell organic prawns somewhere? After more sleuthing I found an article from The Environmental Defense Fund which had a nice overview:

"Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the U.S., yet despite its popularity, it has a very poor environment record. Shrimp farming is often criticized for contaminating local habitats and converting wetlands to shrimp farms, among other concerns. U.S shrimp farms are held to stricter regulations than many farms around the world and have made notable progress in recent years. But in Asia and Latin America, where much of our shrimp comes from, environmental regulations are sometimes lax and often not enforced.

Shrimp farming is often criticized for:
• diseases outbreaks which may threaten wild shrimp,
• releasing of waste water laden with shrimp wastes,
• contamination of shrimp with farm chemicals such as antibiotics, and
• the use of large quantities of wild caught fish to feed shrimp."

After all this research I was sure that I needed to be careful about where shrimp comes from, but I wasn't sure how to know if it was from a good place or not. When I shop at Whole Foods they often have the Marine Stewardship certification on their seafood, so I looked at that website for shrimp sourcing advice. I found there are a few shrimp sources that are MSC certified, but I am not sure I will be able to find them in local stores.

The whole thing is kind of overwhelming at this point. Maybe it is better to just not eat it? Or eat it only occasionally? Maybe eating shrimp will be for rare occasions—unless I find a local, reputable shrimp source.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Paige here from Whole Foods Market. Totally agree that there are many issues involved in buying sustainable fish. that's why we developed our Aquaculture Standards. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/aquaculture.php

We are committed to these standards and to implementing them for farmed seafood throughout our stores. Here are a few highlights:

* Our Quality Standards for Aquaculture prohibit the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian by-products in feed.
* We do not carry genetically modified or cloned seafood.
* We partner with farmers who work hard to be the leaders in sustainable aquaculture.
* Our standards require producers to minimize the impacts of fish farming on the environment by protecting sensitive habitats such as mangrove forests and wetlands, monitoring water quality to prevent pollution and sourcing feed ingredients responsibly.
* Our seafood is free from added preservatives such as sodium bisulfite, sodium tri-polyphosphate (STP) and sodium metabisulfite.

Our specific farm-raised shrimp standards prohibit conversion of sensitive ecosystems such as mangrove forests into shrimp farms, and we track the shrimp from hatchery to pond to processing to ensure the standards are met. Shortly after harvest, they're flash frozen to maintain that "good shrimp" flavor and texture. And, unlike what you'll often find at other markets, our shrimp are never treated with preservatives.

Thanks for caring!

Mindful Momma said...

I used to buy shrimp a lot until I read about all the issues with it. Now it's just an every-once-in-awhile kind of thing. Happy to get a few more details about Whole Foods shrimp - makes me feel a bit better about it.