Misuse of antibiotics in aquaculture
September 2, 2005


Misuse of antibiotics in aquaculture

The deliberate attack by the United States on Vietnam concerning the misuse of antibiotic in aquaculture was irresponsible and unfair. The wrongful use of antibiotics is a widespread international issue. Aside from the effect of antibiotics through human consumption, their use in open systems (i.e., cages/net-pens without a solid barrier between the culture environment and exposed natural environment) poses a serious threat to natural ecosystems.
Coincidentally, understanding how antibiotics are used will help consumers understand the broader issues involving open systems and their negative impact on all ecological services.

Like agriculture, aquaculture also produces crops for two purposes, to feed the needy and the greedy. In order to remain competitive, growers have turned to antibiotics. Antibiotics are not only prescribed to fight off diseases, but to allow selfish producers to grow more crops per unit area.
Antibiotics are often administered to a crop by incorporating it into the feed. Once antibiotics are metabolized and discharged by crops in an open system, the drugs remain effective in the natural environment where they will ultimately influence a variety of interconnected biological processes.
The inability to effectively control parasitic outbreaks, escapees, organic wastes and toxic chemicals are additional ecological hazards associated with open system aquaculture.

Over the last decade, major technological developments have radically improved closed-containment (i.e., a tank or solid barrier between the culture environment and the exposed natural environment) systems. Today, commercial growers use wastes from land based aquaculture systems to fuel and fertilize agriculture operations. Closed systems reduce the crops exposure to pathogens, practically eliminating the need for antibiotics.
This new approach to crop production has been adapted to many social classes and environments. Worldwide, there are numerous operations taking advantage of the “agro-ecosystem” closed system approach, but the industry needs additional support to make this technology an industrial reality.

Vietnam did not deserve to be singled out for problems which exist on an international level. Antibiotics are used by growers to remain competitive in an international price war. The mass production of seafood in open systems will inevitably disrupt the balance of global ecosystems. Shoppers responded accordingly when the dolphin label was placed on the tuna can, and they will do the same when they know the difference between open and closed systems. Redirecting the sustainable development of the aquaculture industry is now a matter of increasing government assistance, product marketability, and consumer awareness. Farming seafood in open systems no longer a justifiable practice and its time the world respected its impact on our natural resources.

Scott E. Zimmerman

Comments?      Email: