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Farmed Shrimp Still Safe

Sensationalized news report overplays antibiotic use, GAA says

May 21, 2012

A leading USA news program, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, ran a report that claimed most of the shrimp that Americans consume is "raised in small, crowded pens on shrimp farms in far-off countries like India, Thailand and Vietnam, and the big secret too often in shocking conditions that promote disease and expose them to chemicals.”

Despite the impression left by the news story on farmed shrimp, the use of antibiotics is neither a common nor accepted practice in shrimp farming, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) said. In fact, the organization said, great progress has been made to eliminate antibiotics, and shrimp can now be obtained from certified sources that provide the food safety assurance that consumers demand.

Shrimp imports to the United States are subject to multiple controls. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration routinely tests imported seafood. Further, exporting countries test and screen shrimp for banned antibiotics and chemicals before it leaves their borders, and countries like China and Thailand also monitor their shrimp farms directly.

For added assurance, seafood buyers typically require their suppliers to test for illegal substances - a requirement that is now mandatory for certification programs such as Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), which the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) developed specifically to address concerns such as antibiotics. 

BAP-certified farms produce 192,350 tons (174,500 metric tons) of shrimp annually. Most of this volume is sent to the United States, where it represents over a quarter of the shrimp imported to the U.S.

"The shrimp-farming industry recognizes the use of antibiotics in food production should be avoided due to concerns about food safety and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," GAA President George Chamberlain said. "The technology for disease management in shrimp farming has made transformative advances."

Pathogens are increasingly managed through the use of specific pathogen-free broodstock and breeding for genetic resistance to disease. At farms, proper pond preparation, disinfection of incoming water and the application of beneficial bacteria to displace pathogens help limit diseases.

The use of banned substances has been reduced thanks to stiffer regulation and enforcement, and pressure from responsible buyers who refuse to buy suspect shrimp. Education also plays a role.

"GAA has an active educational program to assist farmers, regulators and policy makers in understanding the importance of health management through prevention," Chamberlain said. "We hope further training will help move all aquaculturists further away from the use of unapproved chemicals."

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