How safe is your shrimp? Consumer Reports’ scathing report on the safety of shrimp
Most of the shrimp we import is “farmed”—grown in huge industrial tanks or shallow, man-made ponds that can stretch for acres. In some cases 150 shrimp can occupy a single square meter (roughly the size of a 60-inch flat-screen television) where they’re fed commercial pellets, sometimes containing antibiotics to ward off disease. If ponds aren’t carefully managed, a sludge of fecal matter, chemicals, and excess food can build up and decay. Wastewater can be periodically discharged into nearby waterways. “Bacteria and algae can begin to grow and disease can set in, prompting farmers to use drugs and other chemicals that can remain on the shrimp and seep into the surrounding environment,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center. Those shrimp-farming practices raise a variety of concerns—not just about how safe shrimp are to eat but also about the environmental damage that can be caused by farming them that way.
For shoppers the dilemma starts at the grocery store, where it’s difficult to know what to buy. Labels and names can be confusing, meaningless, or—worse—deceptive. Sellers may not always tell (or even know) the truth about the origins of the shrimp they offer. And the allure of a label proclaiming that shrimp are “natural” or “wild” can obscure the fact that some expensive varieties aren’t necessarily fresher or more flavorful.