The pangasius industry finds itself in the media spotlight, and the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) has released a message to extend support for the industry:
Pangasius can be produced responsibly and to rigorous food-safety standards and therefore can be purchased with confidence on these grounds. Pangasius producers certified to Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standards are subject to rigorous food-safety inspection and environmental production controls. These producers have invested in their businesses to meet these requirements and should be respected for their leadership in doing so.
There have been anti-pangasius campaigns, often promoted by competing seafood interests and spread on social media, that can easily misrepresent the realities. However, the claims made in these campaigns have been successfully challenged by scientific studies and published science literature, including Murk et al. (2016), Huysvedt et al. (2013), Little et al. (2012) and Anh et al. (2010).
The co-author of one of these papers, Simon Bush, professor of environmental policy at Wageningen University, responded to recent developments by saying, “Pangasius has been the subject of food scares and environmental scares, but on closer inspection the claims lack substance. Our analysis shows that the vigorous claims made about pangasius do not match the very limited safety risk and limited environmental impact observed in scientific studies. In reality, pangasius, a relatively new product in Western markets, has found an important niche in retail and foodservice outlets and is perhaps a victim of its own success.”
Another scientist, who has studied the life cycle impacts of pangasius, has also leapt to the fish’s defense. Ghent University Professor Emeritus Patrick Sorgeloos said that pangasius is healthy. He told VTM news, “In the media, the fish has wrongly been given a bad image. Research of Dutch scientists has showed that the contribution of the pangasius industry to pollution in the Mekong River is negligible.”
Professor Sorgeloos also went on to challenge the notion that pangasius undermines the market for seafood. “When pangasius made its entrance in Europe, the local fishing industry was afraid of cheap farmed fish from Asia, as they thought that consumers would buy less fish from local sources,” he said. “This proved to be wrong. Pangasius is an ideal fish to start with and is very popular among families with children: It is odorless (no smell in the kitchen upon preparation), has no distinct fishy taste and few bones. The fish lowers the threshold for fish consumption, and at a later age the same children will be interested to expand their range of fish.”
Responding to claims of negative environmental impacts, GAA’s BAP Coordinator Dan Lee said, “Any fish species, whether in a natural or a farm setting, will interact with its environment. Pangasius is no exception and the interactions arising from production systems in Southeast Asia do have the potential to generate localized negative impacts. For this very reason, organizations such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and BAP have established production and environmental standards for farmed fish to recognize those producers who mitigate against those potential negative impacts. The standards specify the controls that need to be applied to contain the risks of biodiversity impacts, wildlife interactions, pollution and the indirect impacts associated with providing marine ingredients for feeds.”
Additionally, the standards developed by GAA and ASC set controls on the use of chemicals and antibiotics to prevent any risks to the health of either the environment or the consumer. The standards have been developed following extensive stakeholder and public consultation including retailers and conservation NGOs. To verify compliance with BAP and ASC standards, independent certification bodies conduct annual inspections, with teams of trained auditors that have specialist knowledge of aquaculture and its potential impacts.
Given the combined forces of science-based standards and rigorous, independent auditing, it is clear that certified pangasius is a responsible sourcing choice. As an industry, our focus can move on from questioning the environmental credentials of this product and instead be concentrating on how collaboratively we can engage to ensure the correct message is received and accepted by consumers. GAA featured such a message at the last GOAL conference in Guangzhou, China, with a video produced by Wageningen University. It can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/ZSYaR8EeM7kl.