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Toxic Fish Farming in China


weinoo
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This past Saturday, the New York Times ran a front-page piece entitled In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters. The piece can be read here,though a subscription might be needed.

The article really worries me, as it states:

Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Compounded by:

the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply...Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

The United States imports tons and tons of seafood - up to 80% of our seafood needs are met via imports - from many different countries, but none seem as potentially disastrous as do the imports from China - in sheer numbers alone, they well outpace our other import partners.

So, I'm boycotting - I simply refuse to buy any seafood products that come from China - I'll do all my seafood shopping at my local farmer's market, Whole Foods, local stores where I can be sure of the provenance, and via mail-order. In restaurants, I will avoid shrimp, eels, etc. unless I can be assured about their origin.

And I think chefs should start boycotting as well. When Chilean sea-bass was being overfished, chefs stopped using it. And I think it's time to do the same with seafood from China, until and unless Chinese fish farmers start making the changes they need in order to ensure the safety of the product they're selling to the rest of the world.

So, anyone else want to stop eating Chinese aquacultured seafood?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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That is truly scary. At least at my grocer's, Wegmans, they do post the origin of the seafood in the counters. I will indeed avoid eating all seafood from China.

Edited by mrsadm (log)

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I stopped buying seafood from China several months ago. For one thing, I think Gulf shrimp are far superior to anything from China and I am close enough to the Gulf to easily buy them.

Brookshire's, the local chain where I buy my seafood, does a good job of displaying country of origin on the seafood. I have been trying to buy only USA seafood products. I trust it and since I am closer to the source, I know it is fresher.

The practices in China scare me. I don't think I am the only one. I think chefs could win a lot of customers by openly informing thier customers of the origin of the fish they serve.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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Not to argue that what is happening in China is right or good at all, but the gist of this paragraph sounds all too familiar...

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

American meat production has its problems too. Where's the national outcry about that? I'm pretty sure E.coli (as an example) is still a huge problem, but I haven't seen much about dealing with that.

Also, maybe boycotting will reduce the number of farms and improve the situation by reducing overcrowding, but I don't think it's going to do much otherwise. Mainly, the article states that we, as Americans, do not get the bulk of this contaminated seafood (the Chinese do themselves, and I bet no one rings a bell of alarm for them, unfortunately). Plus, seafood farming is just one of many industries the Chinese economy is benefiting from financially. Good luck making a dent.

Yes, by all means, stop eating seafood from China because it's potentially deadly; I haven't actually been buying or eating that much seafood (cooking with/for a non-seafood eater), but I'll have this in mind next time I do. But I am not going to believe that a boycott will make the Chinese government take notice (well, enough to stop this), and personally would not word it as such for that reason.

Sorry, but I'm frustrated because it seems to me that the focus on flawed production of food is focused on China. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about products from China. However, I don't hear much about the fact that we source food from abroad and therefore have less control than we could/should have; you get some pieces, but they get little coverage. The bulk of the media focuses on how bad China is.

Edited by feedmec00kies (log)

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

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It's not a problem in Asia only. The Mexican shrimp farms have been a problem with diseases and pollution for well over a decade.

Link goes to an article from 2002

Mexican Shrimp farms

This is the price paid for lower cost, more accessible seafood. I discovered a shrimp farm here in Arizona that does farm sustainably and clean. But it costs more to buy their shrimp.

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This is the price paid for lower cost, more accessible seafood.

This is the price paid for lower cost everything. :angry:

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

eG Ethics Signatory

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American meat production has its problems too. Where's the national outcry about that? I'm pretty sure E.coli (as an example) is still a huge problem, but I haven't seen much about dealing with that.

Sorry, but I'm frustrated because it seems to me that the focus on flawed production of food is focused on China. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about products from China. However, I don't hear much about the fact that we source food from abroad and therefore have less control than we could/should have; you get some pieces, but they get little coverage. The bulk of the media focuses on how bad China is.

Absolutely agree - but I'm posting about this article in the Times, and what I'm doing personally about it. I also try to buy locally sourced and or humanely raised meat and poultry products; trust me, I'm no fan of Dole or ConAgra or any of the other huge agri-business concerns that operate here.

And we do read plenty about e.Coli - when there is an outbreak.

I also don't understand how the "bulk of the media" focuses on how bad China is - this is just one article being discussed.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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About Chilean Sea Bass, according to Al Gore, they are not in dager of overfishing. Chilean Sea Bass was served at his daughter's wedding. An inconvenient truth...right :wacko:

They're not in danger NOW...but they were when the boycott by many top seafood chefs was in place. They've rebounded.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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About Chilean Sea Bass, according to Al Gore, they are not in dager of overfishing. Chilean Sea Bass was served at his daughter's wedding. An inconvenient truth...right :wacko:

They're not in danger NOW...but they were when the boycott by many top seafood chefs was in place. They've rebounded.

Not to stray too far OT, but this report recommends avoiding Chilean Sea bass.

I don't think I've ever had chinese seafood served to me, perhaps as a consequence of growing up on the East Coast, so boycotting won't be a problem :wink:.

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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And we do read plenty about e.Coli - when there is an outbreak.

I also don't understand how the "bulk of the media" focuses on how bad China is - this is just one article being discussed.

Sorry weinoo, didn't mean to seem like I was attacking you. I get frustrated about these things and the claws come out.

My frustration is that there's a big fuss for 2 seconds about E.coli when there's an outbreak, but I feel like I don't hear much about changing food production. Michael Pollan writes articles, but that makes one publication that I see those kinds of stories in semi-regularly. I feel like I hear more about young attractive white females going missing or pop-tarts with drug addictions or child custody problems than the dangers of food production in the US.

The focus on China isn't specific to food, but goods in general... I feel like the news has been peppered with stories about all sorts of bad products coming from China at least since the lead-paint toy scare. We'll probably get country of origin labeling in the farm bill, but all the possibilities I've heard of for reform - the media lauding the fact that this is the first time the public has taken a stand about what is included, and might impact it for the better - seem to have fallen to the wayside.

I don't know, maybe I'm missing something.

Edited by feedmec00kies (log)

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

eG Ethics Signatory

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It is difficult to find any fish/seafood that does not come with a lot of ecological/environmental baggage. Shrimp (bycatch), crabs (terrible overfishing), clams (extremely destructive harvest practices), etc etc. Fish farms are no panacea either- they cause all sorts of problems to fishes native to the areas where the farms are located (e.g. vectors for disease and parasites).

A noteworthy exception is wild Alaskan salmon. They do a remarkably good job managing the wild stocks and ensuring enough fish spawn to keep populations in some semblance of balance.

Eating local foods works well for a lot of things, but not so much for fish or seafood.

Any dish you make will only taste as good as the ingredients you put into it. If you use poor quality meats, old herbs and tasteless winter tomatoes I don’t even want to hear that the lasagna recipe I gave you turned out poorly. You're a cook, not a magician.

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We'll probably get country of origin labeling in the farm bill, but all the possibilities I've heard of for reform - the media lauding the fact that this is the first time the public has taken a stand about what is included, and might impact it for the better - seem to have fallen to the wayside.

I read a headline yesterday that the farm bill had passed. I'll have to check it out (my connection was intermittent yesterday so not much surfing got done at all).

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At risk of steering things a little off-topic, I just wanted to respond to Jensen..

I read a headline yesterday that the farm bill had passed. I'll have to check it out (my connection was intermittent yesterday so not much surfing got done at all).

It did (Senate version last week), but I didn't know what the differences between the House and Senate versions are (I've been bad at finding out)... and if I remember HS political science correctly, those have to be resolved before going to the president to sign/veto.

The USDA has a website devoted to the 2007 bill it seems. Clicky.

And back to the topic... Patapsco Mike, you're so right.

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

eG Ethics Signatory

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  • 2 weeks later...

Perhaps the reason that we hear so much about problems with Chinese food sources (and other products, for that matter) is because there are systemic, structural problems that are institutionalized around the country and its production methods.

Certainly, we hear about US e.coli outbreaks for about 5 seconds of media time, but that is precisely because these are the unfortunate and highly publicized exceptions to a process that is much more highly regulated in the US.

The examples delivered in both the NYT article and in the thread above make clear that pollution, toxins, and pharmaceuticals are the acceptable, status quo practices in China--not breakdowns in a regulatory system. As such, they deserve greater scrutiny and criticism than US e.coli problems.

In other words, in the US, the problems are exceptions to the system, in China, the system leads to the problem.

Patapsco Mike is correct that few seafood products are without baggage, so choose carefully.

And as for the Patagonian Toothfish (aka Chilean Sea Bass) the species takes so long to reach reproductive maturity that a mere decade of avoidance is not long enough to effect a recovery of the stock.

Good wine is a necessity of life for me. --Thomas Jefferson

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In other words, in the US, the problems are exceptions to the system, in China, the system leads to the problem.

Patapsco Mike is correct that few seafood products are without baggage, so choose carefully.

Well put, Duck Fat.

It's been pointed out on eGullet before, but worth repeating - the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a web-site which is quite helpful in determining safe seafood choices for the American consumer - it's right here, and I use it often when making my seafood choices for home cooking, most of which is line-caught or hand-harvested from local waters.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Personally, in terms of fin fish, I have decided not to purchase/eat anything unless its labeled as wild caught, and not at all if it came from China. That rules out farmed fish for me, which means I eat a lot (a LOT) less fin fish but so be it. I don't think fish farming, after what I've read and seen about it, is a good thing.

Now. Unfortunately, in my area, this is tough to avoid for shellfish. Especially shrimp, they all seem to be farmed. Crab and lobster certainly less so, but for the cooked crab parts, at least in SoCal they don't seem to be labeled as to farmed or wild. I will not purchase shrimp, wild or farmed, if the source is China, sorry no deal. The fact that their government would not allow our FDA inspectors into their processing plants speaks volumes. Not that FDA is perfect, far from it, believe me, but they're what we've got.

No seafood from China. No more, not now, not ever. And very, very little farmed seafood. It just doesn't sit well with me.

--Roberta--

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In other words, in the US, the problems are exceptions to the system, in China, the system leads to the problem.

Patapsco Mike is correct that few seafood products are without baggage, so choose carefully.

Well put, Duck Fat.

It's been pointed out on eGullet before, but worth repeating - the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a web-site which is quite helpful in determining safe seafood choices for the American consumer - it's right here, and I use it often when making my seafood choices for home cooking, most of which is line-caught or hand-harvested from local waters.

That is a fantastic resource! Thanks for sharing :cool:

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