Toxic Seafood Warning
Mar 8 2010, 06:01 PM
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Toxic Seafood Warning
May 22 2010, 02:13 PM
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I read an article (British news) about the toxic Asian seafood imports - I have not eaten shrimp since.
Even if it says "Thailand" - it is often shipped thru Thailand - and is actually Chinese ...
People should think - why has the price of shrimp, etc dropped in the past decade plus ?
Because a lot of it is poison ! There is little if any regulation in China, the FDA is overwhelmed.
The Chinese peoples have moved from their family farms, etc - and are desperate to earn a living - many (most ?)
see nothing wrong with deception. Coupled with the demise of the US Gulf Coast .....
link - fair use - for education and discussion: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/15/world/asia/15fish.html
December 15, 2007
In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters
By DAVID BARBOZA
FUQING, China — 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.
Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.
But that growth is threatened 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.
“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”
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.
Environmental degradation, in other words, has become a food safety problem, and scientists say the long-term risks of consuming contaminated seafood could lead to higher rates of cancer and liver disease and other afflictions.
No one is more vulnerable to these health risks than the Chinese, because most of the seafood in China stays at home. But foreign importers are also worried. In recent years, the European Union and Japan have imposed temporary bans on Chinese seafood because of illegal drug residues. The United States blocked imports of several types of fish this year after inspectors detected traces of illegal drugs linked to cancer.
This week, officials from the United States and China signed an agreement in Beijing to improve oversight of Chinese fish farms as part of a larger deal on food and drug safety.
Yet regulators in both countries are struggling to keep contaminated seafood out of the market. China has shut down seafood companies accused of violating the law and blacklisted others, while United States regulators are concentrating on Chinese seafood for special inspections.
Fuqing (pronounced foo-CHING) is at the top of the list this year for refused shipments of seafood from China, with 43 rejections through November, according to records kept by the United States Food and Drug Administration. All of those rejections involved the use of illegal veterinary drugs.
By comparison, Thailand, also a major exporter of seafood to the United States, had only two refusals related to illegal veterinary drugs. China as a whole had 210 refusals for illegal drugs.
“For 50 years,” said Wang Wu, a professor at Shanghai Fisheries University, “we’ve blindly emphasized economic growth. The only pursuit has been G.D.P., and now we can see that the water turns dirty and the seafood gets dangerous. Every year, there are food safety and environmental pollution accidents.”
Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year.
China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country. Farmers mass-produce seafood just offshore, but mostly on land, and in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs, or in huge rectangular fish ponds dug into the earth.
“They’ll be a major supplier not just to the U.S., but to the world,” said Richard Stavis, the chairman of Stavis Seafoods, an American company that imports Chinese catfish, tilapia and frog legs.
China began emerging as a seafood power in the 1990s as rapid economic growth became the top priority in the country. But environmental experts say that headlong pursuit of higher gross domestic product has devastated Chinese water quality and endangered the country’s food supply. In Guangdong Province in southern China, fish contaminated with toxic chemicals like DDT are already creating health problems.
“There are heavy metals, mercury and flame retardants in fish samples we’ve tested,” said Ming Hung Wong, a professor of biology at Hong Kong Baptist University. “We’ve got to stop the pollutants entering the food system.”
More than half of the rivers in China are too polluted to serve as a source of drinking water. The biggest lakes in the country regularly succumb to harmful algal blooms. Seafood producers are part of the problem, environmental experts say. Enormous aquaculture farms concentrate fish waste, pesticides and veterinary drugs in their ponds and discharge the contaminated water into rivers, streams and coastal areas, often with no treatment.
“Water is the biggest problem in China,” said Peter Leedham, the business manager at Sino Analytica, an independent food safety testing firm that works with companies that buy from China. “But my feeling is China will deal with it, because it has to. It just won’t be a quick process.”
Fishing for Prosperity
Fuqing is called qiaoxiang, or home, for those who go overseas, because for decades this port city on the East China Sea is where thousands of people fled as stowaways.
In the 1980s, some emigrants began sending home money and ideas at just about the time that investors were arriving from Japan and Taiwan, promising to help the country build fish farms.
“Aquaculture was popular in Japan, so I saw the future,” said Wang Weifu, a longtime eel producer.
Thousands of peasants who had struggled to earn a living harvesting rice and potatoes began carving up huge plots, digging rectangular pits and filling them with water to create fish ponds. Other parts of the country followed, creating fish farms alongside roads, near rivers and streams and in big lakes, ponds and reservoirs.
Today, the mighty Yangtze River is lined with fish farms. Historic Lake Tai is stocked with crab pens. Near Ningde, 90 miles north of here, thousands of people live in a huge bay area, where they float on large wooden rafts, feeding and harvesting caged fish, like the yellow croaker.
The government hoped the building boom would lift millions out of poverty. And it did. There are now more than 4.5 million fish farmers in China, according to the Fishery Bureau.
Lin Bingui, 50, is one of them, a former bricklayer with an easy smile who now manages 20 enormous shrimp and eel ponds in western Fuqing, on reclaimed land with access to a narrow strait of seawater.
“This doesn’t take a lot of technology,” he said while walking into an indoor pond, where he raises baby eels. “You just learn it as you go along.”
The boom did more than create jobs. It made China the only country that produced more seafood from fish farms than from the sea. It also helped feed an increasingly prosperous population, a longstanding challenge in China.
Many growers here struck it rich as well, people like Lin Sunbao, whose 25-year-old son is now studying at Cambridge University in England. “My best years were 1992, ’93, ’94,” he said. “I only had one aqua farm, and I earned over $500,000 a year.”
As early as the mid-1990s, though, serious environmental problems began to emerge after electronics and textile manufacturing plants moved into central Fuqing. Water shortages appeared in the southeastern part of the city, and some fish farmers say their water turned black.
Government records document the environmental ills in the region. The nearby Dongzhang Reservoir, a water source for agriculture and more than 700,000 people, was recently rated level 5, near the bottom of the government scale, unfit for fish farming, swimming or even contact with the human body.
The Long River, the major waterway in Fuqing, has been degraded by waste dumped by paper factories and slaughterhouses. The government this year rated large sections of the river below level 5, or so highly polluted that it is unfit for any use. And nearby coastal waters which are also heavily fish farmed are polluted with oil, lead, mercury and copper, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration in China.
As water quality in Fuqing declined, farmers who often filled their ponds with too much seafood tried to fight off disease and calm stressed fish with an array of powerful, and often illegal, antibiotics and pesticides.
Eel producers, for example, often used nitrofuran to kill bacteria. But that antibiotic has been banned for use in animal husbandry in the United States, Europe, Japan, and even China, because it has caused cancer in laboratory rats.
Importers of Chinese seafood quickly caught on. In recent years, eel shipments to Europe, Japan and the United States have been turned back or destroyed because of residues of banned veterinary drugs. Eel shipments to Japan have dropped 50 percent through August of this year, dealing a heavy blow in Fuqing.
Chinese farmers say they have stopped using the banned medicines, and have suffered a 30 percent decline in survival rates of their fish and other seafood.
“Before 2005, we did use drugs blindly. They were very effective in fighting disease,” said Wang Weifu, chairman of a local eel association, noting that drug residues might still be in the water. “But now we don’t dare because of the regulations.”
Some growers have lashed out at Japan, arguing that it keeps raising the drug residue standard simply to protect its own eel farms against competition. But growers here say buyers from Japan will eventually be forced to purchase eels from China.
“Our market will expand in Russia and Southeast Asia, and the E.U.,” Mr. Wang said. “Also, we see big prospects in the Chinese market. In five or six years, as we transfer our export destinations, Japan will be begging us.”
Retreating From the Coast
The drive about 175 miles west of Fuqing leads into the lush subtropical mountains of Fujian Province, where some of China’s richest bamboo and timber reserves can be found. There, near the city of Sanming, Fuqing eel producers have built a collection of aquaculture farms, huge cement tubs wedged into the mountainside, covered by black tarps and stocked with millions of eels.
“This costs a lot more up here, but we had to do it,” said Zheng Qiuzhen, a longtime Fuqing eel producer who now operates near Sanming. “We had to do something about the water problems.”
In much of the country, seafood growers are leaving crowded coastal areas for less developed regions, where the land is cheaper and there is cleaner water. But they say the overall cost of doing business so far from the coast is higher, given the expense of shipping the fish in oxygenated trucks to the processing plant in Fuqing and their forswearing illegal drugs, which lowers survival rates and increases the growth period of most fish to five years from three years.
“You can’t find many places as beautiful as this, covered by trees and bamboo,” said Lin Sunbao, who moved from Fuqing to Sanming. “We use water from mountain streams. And because our water is better, it’s harder to get disease.”
This is one of the solutions to the water crisis in China: to seek out virgin territory and essentially start the cycle all over again. And that worries scientists, who say aquaculture in China is not just a victim of water pollution but a culprit with a severe environmental legacy.
Industrial fish farming has destroyed mangrove forests in Thailand, Vietnam and China, heavily polluted waterways and radically altered the ecological balance of coastal areas, mostly through the discharge of wastewater. Aquaculture waste contains fish feces, rotting fish feed and residues of pesticides and veterinary drugs as well as other pollutants that were already mixed into the poor quality water supplied to farmers.
Besides algal blooms, some of the biggest lakes in China, like Lake Tai, are suffering from eutrophication nutrient bombs, brought on partly by aquaculture, that can kill fish by depleting the water’s oxygen. The government is forcing aquaculture out of these lakes, and also away from the Long River in Fuqing.
Places like Sanming may not be pristine for long. Heavy industry is moving in, lured by mineral riches and incentives from local governments, which are pushing for development.
And Sanming already has 72 giant eel farms, producing 5,000 tons of seafood a year. Those farms together use about 280 million gallons of water a day and then discharge the wastewater the following day, back into the Sanming environs.
There are efforts to operate aquaculture in a sustainable way. In Norway, for instance, salmon producers use sophisticated technology, including underwater cameras, to monitor water quality and how much fish feed is actually consumed. But nothing like this is being done in China, and specialists like Li Sifa of Shanghai Fisheries University insist that Chinese regulations are too lax and that enforcement efforts are often feeble or nonexistent.
The government has stepped up its inspections of fish farms and seafood processing plants here, alerting workers of the dangers and consequences of using illegal drugs. But the drugs have remained a problem, partly because of poor water quality.
A possible solution to the water woes is to move aquaculture well out to sea, specialists say, with new technology that allows for deepwater fish cages served by automatic feeding machines.
The United States is already considering such a plan, partly as a way to make it less dependent on imports, which now fill 80 percent of its seafood needs. China is also considering adopting what is now being called “open ocean” aquaculture.
Currently, China’s coastal fish farms face many of the same challenges as those on land. Waters there are heavily polluted by oil, lead, mercury, copper and other harsh substances. Veterinary drugs dropped in shoreline waters may easily spread to neighboring aquaculture farms and affect species outside the cages, and while coastal waters are less polluted than those on land, aquaculture farms, with their intensive production cycles, are prone to be polluters.
Still, said An Taicheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences: “China has to go to the sea because it’s getting harder and harder to find clean water. Every year there are seafood safety problems. One day, no one will dare to eat fish from dirty water, and what will farmers do?”
Chen Yang contributed research from Shanghai and Fuqing.
This post has been edited by nitatutt: May 22 2010, 03:01 PM
May 22 2010, 02:27 PM
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link - fair use: http://news.peacefmonline.com/social/201005/42834.php
WARNING - THIS ARTICLE WILL LIKELY RUIN YOUR APPETITE
Why on earth did the US recently OK exporting of chicken from China when they have all this info ?
Tilapia, Drugs And Toys - The Dangers Of The Made In China Label
Ghana, like the rest of the world, has become the dumping ground of cheap Chinese imports. These Chinese imports include food, drugs and electronics. Of these cheap imports, food and medicine have been my objects of worry.
Recently, I added electrical products to that list when investigators zeroed in on defective electrical wires as being responsible for the recent spate of building fires in Ghana. As cheap Chinese food imports decimate Ghana’s agriculture, one of the unintended consequences is the proliferation of tainted or unwholesome food items on the Ghanaian market.
Tilapia from China fed on human excreta and chicken waste
As China feeds Ghana’s insatiable appetite for foreign food, the Ghanaian culinary plate now routinely includes shrimp and tilapia. Most of the shrimp and tilapia as well as other exotic fish sold in Ghana and in other African stores in the Diaspora, are grown in ponds on small farms in China and Southeast Asia. If the menu on your food table includes shrimp, tilapia and other Chinese imported fish, this article may not be appetizing.
Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Food Safety Center at the University of Georgia has visited Chinese fish farms and what he found was shocking and despicable. What the Chinese feed the fish is disgusting, appalling and dangerous. Bacteria and viruses pose much greater threats to food safety than pesticides or genetically modified corn. But many people worry more about genetically modified grain. If many Ghanaians knew of the dangers posed by Chinese-raised fish, they won’t touch them with a long fork.
Chinese raised fish according to Dr. Doyle are often fed a diet of chicken waste and human excreta. For most fish farms Dr. Doyle visited in China, the outhouse (public toilet) is perched on stilts above the fish pond. Yuck!! The tilapia that eventually landed on your lunch or dinner plate was fed human excreta from the communal toilet. When the fish is ready to be harvested, the Chinese feed the fish antibiotics to prevent the inherent disease threat.
It's all pretty unwholesome, but is it dangerous? So far, no major food poisonings have been associated with imported fish in Ghana. The reason may be due to the way Ghanaians cook their food. Most pathogenic microbes in Ghanaian food are killed by the intense heat under which we cook most of our food.
But will you continue to eat Chinese tilapia knowing that it was fed human excreta and chicken waste? I stopped eating tilapia from China when I came across Dr. Doyle’s research. During our years in Legon, a female student of Mensah Sarbah Hall accidently dropped her food at the Dining Hall. Before the Dining Hall staff could pick up the mess, a male student scooped up the meat and started devouring it to the dismay of fellow students. This student was given a new name “unwholesome.” He was greeted with cat calls, whistles and shouts of “unwholesome” everywhere he appeared on campus.
If Legon students from that era found that meat unwholesome, I wonder how they will feel now knowing what goes into the fish they are eating at their dinner tables now in Ghana. Fish from China would qualify as “unwholesome!!” Ghana’s Food and Drug Board should start conducting random inspection of these Chinese seafood imports for microbial contamination.
Misuse of Drugs and Chemicals in Aquaculture
There has been extensive commercialization and increased consumption of aquaculture (farm-raised) seafood products worldwide. Farm-raised seafood has become the fastest growing sector of the world food economy, accounting for approximately half of all seafood production worldwide. As the aquaculture industry chalks up this spiraling growth and competes with wild-caught seafood products, the use of unapproved animal drugs and unsafe chemicals and the misuse of animal drugs in aquaculture have shot up exponentially and this raises significant health concerns.
The Chinese fish farm menu is a hodgepodge of unpronounceable chemical nomenclature- malachite green, nitrofurans, fluoroquinolones, and gentian violet-all of them unapproved. There is clear scientific evidence that the use of antibiotics or chemicals, such as the foregoing, during the various stages of aquaculture always invariably results in the presence of residues of the parent compound or its metabolites in the edible portion of the aquacultured seafood. Research in the US has shown that the presence of antibiotic residues in the food chain is the main culprit in the increase of antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens. Are these substances in the Chinese seafood imported into Ghana? Only God knows.
We should however be all concerned by the long-term health consequences Chinese sea food imports pose for the Ghanaian consumer. The Ghana Food and Drug Board should inspect and test Chinese seafood for these carcinogens. So while Ghana’s hard earned foreign money finds its way to Beijing, diabolical Chinese businessmen are hurrying unsuspecting Ghanaians to their early graves. I’ve always maintained that it takes two to tango. Therefore, Ghanaian businessmen and unscrupulous government officials are equally palpable. The government should warn consumers against potential health threats posed by contaminants that may be present in seafood raised in China and marketed in Ghana.
If Chinese businesses will risk business in the lucrative US market and export consumables laden with dangerous chemicals to the US, God knows what they are doing in Ghana and the rest of Africa. Here is a roll call of the dangers posed by cheap Chinese imports to the US as reported by the US FDA all within the last five years. Is anybody in Ghana watching?
* The US Food and Drug Administration placed an “import alert” on Chinese farm-raised shrimp, catfish and eels, which were found to be contaminated by carcinogens and antibiotics.
* The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered the recall of 450,000 tires from China. The manufacturer, Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber, appears to have cut corners and costs by leaving out a key component that keeps treads from separating.
* 1.5 million of the popular Thomas the Tank Engine toys were recalled; they were coated in lead paint capable of damaging the brains of children. These, too, came from China.
* Before that, investigators found that a highly toxic ingredient of antifreeze, diethylene glycol, was also an ingredient of some Chinese toothpaste. The poisonous toothpaste had been distributed in prisons and mental hospitals in Georgia.
* The same lethal chemical, sold by China as nontoxic glycerin and added to cough syrup, has killed more than 100 people in Panama.
* In one year alone all the 24 toys recalled in the United States were made in China
* a line of coffees ( Mr. Brown’s brand) and a candy (White Rabbit Creamy Candy) all made in China- were all recalled in the US because testing in New Zealand found “high levels” of the industrial compound melamine (an ingredient that is used to make plastic and fertilizer) in both products. Melamine contains nitrogen and can artificially boost protein level readings of such items as powdered foods, allowing exporters to charge more for what appear to be high-protein foods. Melamine also was found in wheat flour from China that was used in North American pet food and animal feed. The pet food contamination led to the illness and death of thousands of pets.
Crackdown on deadly Chinese imports in EU
In 2006, the EU warned the European public against the dangers posed to health and safety by fake medicines from China. Deadly fake medicines, including tablets made with yellow road paint and unhygienic pregnancy testing kits, are part of a tide of counterfeit goods from China posing a danger to health, consumers in Europe.
EU investigators found heart pills coated with furniture polish and bottles of bogus shampoo which caused skin damage among five million items seized by customs officials at various European ports.
The litany of Chinese fakes no longer involve imitation luxury watches but condoms, HIV and pregnancy testing kits manufactured under unhygienic conditions. Cigarettes containing sand and cadmium, with tar and nicotine levels exceeding EU acceptable limits by more than 75% and 25% respectively were also among the 75 million counterfeit items seized in Europe in one year alone.
In Europe and the Americas, health scares have swirled around a range of Chinese-made exports, from toxic toothpaste ingredients to faulty tires, pet food and toxic seafood and drywall. How come we don’t hear about that in Africa? It’s because most deaths in Africa are attributed to witchcraft or voodoo and blamed on that old lady in the village. The Ghana government should fund the Food and Drug Board to begin bolstering its surveillance of food-borne illness.
It is a fact that the government agencies tasked with consumer safety in Ghana are hopelessly outnumbered by the sheer enormity of Chinese imports.
A de facto boycott of Chinese goods by Ghanaian consumers is not feasible or realistic. But it seems that some Chinese manufacturers – and the Chinese government – haven’t quite grasped a concept key to the survival of any enterprise: the return of a satisfied customer. In the meantime, my advice to fellow Ghanaians is to be reasonably cautious in their food preparation and general use of Chinese products. To the Ghanaian Tilapia Fish Farmers and other manufacturers, this is a golden opportunity to tout the purity of your products and promote the Made in Ghana label.
This post has been edited by nitatutt: May 22 2010, 02:32 PM
May 22 2010, 02:36 PM
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I was not aware that Homeland Security is now involved with the FDA, USDA
link - fair use: http://www.defendingfoodsafety.com/article...-foods-imports/
Defending Food Safety
Posted at 12:30 AM on December 14, 2009 by Shawn Stevens
New Initiative Created To Enhance Import Safety
Today, more than 15 percent of the food consumed in the United States is imported from foreign shores. In turn, more and more consumers are beginning to question what is, and what isn't, being done to ensure the safety of foreign food product imports.
In response, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") recently announced the creation of a new group, called the Import Safety Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center ("CTAC"), designed to enhance federal efforts to ensure the safety of imported foods.
Recommended by President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group, the new center will be staffed with about 30 members, will operate under the direction of Customs and Border Protection ("CBP"), and will receive direct assistance from numerous additional governmental agencies, including the FDA, EPA and CPSC. As one of CBP's six commercial targeting centers in the United States, the CTAC will target shipments of imported cargo, including food, for potential safety violations.
"In addition to guarding against terrorism and crime, securing our borders and facilitating legitimate trade involve ensuring the safety of imported [food] products," said DHS Secretary Napolitano. "This new targeting center will enhance the inspection of goods entering our country by centralizing and strengthening federal efforts to protect U.S. consumers."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also backed the initiative. “With so much food coming from abroad, we must do all we can to ensure that it conforms to the same safety standards as our own food safety systems,” said Sebelius. “The new CTAC announced today is an important step toward the type of collaboration necessary to ensure that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply,” added Vilsack.
As part of its collaboration with CBP, FSIS will also extend its enforcement efforts to target ineligible imports, and investigate suspicious shipments based on manifest information filed prior to the arrival of goods at U.S. ports.
Ultimately, the new facility, which will be located adjacent to CBP's Office of International Trade in Washington, will strive to enhance the safety of foreign food product imports by promoting the three core principles announced by the Food Safety Working Group: Prevention, Surveillance and Response.
This post has been edited by nitatutt: May 22 2010, 02:37 PM
May 22 2010, 02:58 PM
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Found the article I mentioned in my earlier post:
Is your prawn cocktail toxic? Read this and you may never want to eat one again
By Alex Renton
Last updated at 10:12 PM on 3rd October 2008
link - fair use - for education and discussion:
Read more: http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article...l#ixzz0oDMZG8w6
Southern Vietnam is hot and sticky at any time, but the humid air inside the Huong family's hut, perched on a prawn-pond dyke in the Mekong Delta, is almost unbearable.
The single room is rank with chemicals: we cough and sneeze when we enter.
There's an acrid dust all over the mud floor, which makes you worry for little Huong Thi Mai, a seven-year-old girl who is sitting on the bed near the door watching her parents work.
I glance at her bare shins for signs of the skin infections that are common among prawn farm workers, but she looks OK. At least for now.
Mr Huong is proud: 'This is a very modern prawn-farming business,' he says. And, with luck and four months' hard labour, it is going to make him and his family quite rich.
After they've paid their debts, the Huongs hope to buy a moped and their first fridge. Thi Mai might go to a new school. 'We can have a better life,' says Mrs Huong.
But until the tiger prawns are ready for harvest, and shipped off to Britain, Europe or America, the family must live here, keeping a 24-hour watch beside the sour-smelling pond.
They've borrowed £4,000, a huge sum for this family, to invest in prawn larvae, feed and medicines - and they need to keep alert in case anyone tries to steal the growing prawns.
Modernity, for Mr Huong, appears to be chiefly measured in chemicals. I count 13 different pots, jars and sacks of these in the hut, and he eagerly talks me through them.
He's particularly keen on a compound called 'Super Star' - the Vietnamese print on the label says it 'intensifies the metabolism to help prawns grow fat'. He learnt about this additive on a course run by the Vietnamese government at a local fishery training centre.
'We're not allowed to use much - only ten bottles per crop,' he says.
There are other glossy labels - most of them for products made in Thailand, the centre of the world's prawn-farming industry. Mr Huong mixes up feed in a basin while we talk. The basic feed, he says, is soya, broken rice and fish, and prawn parts. But in it goes a large dose of something called 'Amino-Pro'. 'It helps the prawns taste better,' he says.
The label has familiar words from stock-cube packets: aspartic acid, glutamic acid and taurine, which is the key element of the energy drink Red Bull. Then there is Vitamix, 'to make prawns grow faster', Calphorax 'to help the shell thicken and give better colour' and Vin Superclear 'to kill pests, viruses and smells'. On top of all this is a seasoning of antibiotics.
Prawn farming is an ancient activity in tropical countries. Coastal peoples in Indonesia and Vietnam have trapped young marine prawns in brackish ponds for at least 500 years, feeding them up with fish scraps and household waste to eat or sell. The prawns, properly farmed, are sweet and juicy: it's a lucrative business.
But the trade has changed drastically since black tiger prawns became a popular luxury in wealthy parts of the world during the Nineties. The cottage industry was swiftly industrialised. From Ecuador to Indonesia, coastal farmers punched holes in sea defences to let salt water into their paddy fields.
As with salmon, coffee and a host of other once rare and expensive foods, the demand from rich countries brought more and more producers into the market.
Tiger or 'king' prawns and their siblings have become a staple of Britain's supermarkets. The result? Ever-falling prices, but increasing use of chemicals and dropping quality.
The chemicals used in these production systems - which pack 20 prawns into one square metre of foul, endlessly recycled water - have been shown again and again to harm the workers involved, the environment and very possibly the consumers.
Yet shoppers are more in love with tiger prawns than ever. Tropical farmed prawns are now Britain's fifth most popular seafood. Sales were up 14 per cent last year - and we now spend £169 million a year on them, four times as much as we spend on frozen burgers.
At Marks & Spencer, which has seen a 20 per cent increase in king prawn sales, a spokesman told me tropical prawns are 'so fashionable' because they are 'a light and healthy option'.
Enthusiastic endorsement from celebrity chefs has helped the boom - Gordon Ramsay recently salivated over king prawn and wonton soup on The F Word, while Jamie Oliver suggested a recipe for them on skewers.
Light and healthy? I think about this as we follow Mr Huong past a litter of prawn-feed bags to the pond, which measures 400 square metres - about the size of two tennis courts.
It was once the family's ancestral rice paddy, and at this time of year the growing seedlings should be turning the landscape a brilliant yellow-green. But the pond - like all the others nearby - is now a viscous grey, like old washing-up water.
Mr Huong paddles off in a small boat, scattering the feed he mixed earlier. A system of paddle wheels, driven by a diesel engine, lies ready to stir up the water and bring oxygen to the shellfish packed beneath. There are 80,000 of them below the surface.
Back on the dyke, he dips a net into the opaque water, and pulls up a few of the animals to weigh them and inspect them for deformities. They are two months old, and about the size of my index finger.
The Huongs - again, like all their neighbours - opened the dykes and turned to prawn farming because of the fantastic profits available.
A field that would have provided enough rice for the family to eat, plus a little extra to sell for essentials, has become a life-changing asset. If this crop is successful, the Huongs will sell the prawns for £8,000 - if prices hold up - after only four months.
This is an enormous amount in a country where many rural people still survive on less than £1 a day. As a result, rice farmers have now become chemists, experts in the complex biology of intensively farmed prawns.
Across the dykes, we see men and women in conical hats dipping testtubes in the water, checking acidity levels and examining prawns in test nets for the dreaded signals of disease: reddening shells, mis-shapen bodies, white spots on their legs.
The prawns, packed into the ponds, are terribly prone to illness. Mr Huong's last batch of prawn larvae all died after a month - he doesn't know why. Indeed, white-spot virus almost killed off the entire industry in Vietnam two years ago.
Having gambled everything on prawns, people will do anything to protect their investment. That includes using any chemicals that may seem to help.
'Often we get consignments of antibiotics for human use that are past the date they can be used by,' a villager told me.
On the main road out of town, near Mr Huong's farm, there is a government sign. Under a vivid picture of jars, bottles and dead prawns, it lists all the chemicals that prawn farmers must not use - 51 of them.
They include many human antibiotics, penicillins, and some names I recognise from the bad days of the European fish-farming industry - nitrofuran, chloramphenicol and organophosphate pesticides.
This poster shows the efforts the Vietnamese government has been taking to educate farmers. But when everything hinges on a successful crop, it is inevitable that some are willing to take risks.
Back in Britain, I ran the long list of chemicals we had found in use at Mr Huong's prawn farm past Peter Bridson, who is in charge of aquaculture at the Soil Association. Nothing we had found surprised him.
'You see this repeatedly in industrial aquaculture. There's a get-rich-quick attitude. Everyone follows the boom, but one false step and it crashes. And disease is usually the problem.'
Most of the chemicals we photographed in Mr Huong's shed are pesticides, feed enhancers and growth stimulants.
'These types of products are commonly used in Asia,' says Bridson. 'The farmers experiment. Someone chucks something in his tanks and gets good results. He tells his mates and the product becomes mainstream in the area - whether it actually does anything or not.'
Mr Huong's Super Star contains a chemical commonly used as a ' nutritional enhancer'. It is marketed by the company Bayer in Europe as 'Butaphosphan'.
On Bayer's website all I can find is a recommendation that it be used for injecting into sheep, dogs and cats suffering from 'stress, over-exertion or exhaustion' and as a tonic in cases of weakness or anaemia in animals. (Note that Bayer does not supply the chemical in Vietnam nor market it as a 'nutritional enhancer'.)
Some chemicals may do more harm than good - and not just to the image of the tropical prawn. Super Star also contains methyl hydroxybenzoate, an anti-fungal preservative which is banned in France and Australia. It has been linked to cancer in some beauty treatments.
The most dubious thing we found in the Huong's arsenal of chemicals was in a pot named 'N300' - a 'medicine for digestion and liver function', made by a Vietnamese company called Cong Ty TNHH.
It contained beta glucan, a harmless component of many human nutrition supplements, but also norfloxacin, an antibiotic usually used to treat gonorrhea and urinary tract infections in humans. It is 'under watch' by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration because of increased reports of nasty side effects, including damage to tendons.
Norfloxacin and its siblings, the fluoroquinolones, are banned for use in animals for human consumption in the U.S., and subject to EU controls on imports. Misuse of the fluoroquinolones is increasingly blamed for the rise in resistance to anti-bacterial medicines, and five floxacins are listed on the poster of banned chemicals we saw at the entrance to the village.
Since 2005, Vietnam's fishery ministry has banned the use of fluoroquinolones in fish destined for the North American market, but not, apparently, for European countries. From the pile of empty N300 jars we saw, there is a lot of fluoroquinolone in the feed for Mr Huong's prawns.
Numerous surveys have been done on the effects of the antibiotics that are used in prawn farming across the world (31 different ones were identified in Vietnam in a 2006 study, among a total of 155 different drugs).
They conclude that, although the antibiotics may rise to detectable levels in the bodies of prawns, even greater damage is being done to the environment in which they're farmed.
It's Mr Huong's daughter Thi Mai who may have problems when doctors try to treat her for skin complaints, diarrhoea, respiratory problems or other bacterial infections, including malaria. They may find she is resistant to certain antibiotics.
But the effects could be felt further away. Scientists have speculated that outbreaks of salmonella poisoning in Europe and the U.S. may have been started by antibiotic-resistant salmonella in farmed fish from Asia.
And the leaking of antibiotics and pesticides into the delicate ecosystem in the coastal shallows of prawn-farming countries will have effects no one yet fully understands.
Peter Bridson worries the chemicals will intensify, because the water system is closed, with water being re-used from one farm to another, leading to an even greater build-up of chemicals in the prawn ponds.
So how worried should we prawn lovers be? Well, Food & Water Watch, an American lobby group that has studied prawn farming for ten years, issued a warning in its latest report.
It said: 'The negative effects of eating industrially-produced tiger prawns may include neurological damage from ingesting chemicals such as endosulfans, an allergic response to penicillin residues, or infection by an antibiotic-resistant pathogen such as E-coli.'
That is a judicious 'may'.
What is certain is that banned or controlled chemicals are coming into Europe with farmed prawns, despite the promises of governments and retailers to stop this happening.
Last year, the EU rejected shipments of farmed prawn from six major exporters in India because they contained chloramphenicol and nitrofurans - two once-common antibiotics which are now known to be carcinogenic. One causes leukaemia.
The EU claims this shows its regulations work, but the fact remains that the EU is thought to test only 1 per cent of such shipments. The real scale of the problem could be far wider. In Louisiana, a prawn-producing region which conducts its own tests on imports, chloramphenicol was found in 9 per cent of all foreign prawn shipments in 2007.
I'm grateful to Taras Grescoe for that last piece of information. His new book, Bottomfeeder, describes the scary practices of the fishing industry in nauseating detail. Grescoe thinks farmed prawns are the most disgusting of all the industrially farmed foods - even worse than battery chickens. And he doesn't eat them.
But boycotting farmed prawns won't hurt the real villains in all this. As in any tale of shipping foods of the poor world to the rich in bulk, it is big corporations, processors and retailers which make the bulk of profits, and they should therefore take responsibility. Unlike small-scale producers like Mr Huong, they would survive a collapse of the prawn market.
No, to make a difference across the tropics, we customers must demand better prawns, raised in a way that's good for them and the people who farm them. And that means we have to be prepared to pay more for them.
On my desk I have two 212g boxes from my local Tesco of uncooked peeled king prawns from Vietnam, which I found on sale at two for £5. That means the 60 or so prawns cost me just over 8p each.
Once the costs of shelling, freezing, packing and shipping have been factored in - not to mention the supermarket's own profit margin - the producer would have been obliged to sell his prawns for a few pennies each. That is simply not enough to ensure decent standards of welfare and production.
Bad prawn farming is caused by the same things as bad chicken farming - the relentless pressure on prices forced on producers by supermarkets.
The result is a prawn cocktail that only a chemist could love.
May 22 2010, 03:09 PM
Group: Private Forum Pilot
Joined: 5-December 07
Member No.: 2,550
Look at all these pages of FDA letters - I searched only the word shrimp !
Check out all these REDACTED words (after the arm twisting I assume) for this FDA letter re: toxic seafood imports:
Fujjan Sky Food Company
This post has been edited by nitatutt: May 22 2010, 03:12 PM
May 22 2010, 11:12 PM
Joined: 1-April 07
Member No.: 875
i worked on a fish farm for a while, on a lake in Canada.
You see, part of the lifecycle of salmon is, in fresh water.
i'd sort of like to try raising a barrel of tilapia myself,
they are a vegetarian fish, so i could feed them,
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