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High Environmental and Social Costs from Shrimp Farming
(Beyond Pesticides, November 15, 2004)
The environmental and socials costs of shrimp aquaculture - commonly known as shrimp farming - are not reflected in the low price of shrimp found in restaurants and grocery stores throughout the United States, according to a new report by Public Citizen. The organization says consumers should know the full story about how shrimp aquaculture is harming the environment, displacing traditional communities, eliminating jobs and destroying ways of life in countries where shrimp farming has become a big business.

Shrimp farms depend on staggering amounts of antibiotics, fungicides, algaecides and pesticides. Local communities are robbed of drinking water sources by farms that pump in fresh water and pump out wastewater. In addition, these farms are constructed along the coastlines of tropical countries, often replacing mangrove forests, destroying salt marshes and preventing local access to traditional livelihoods.

The report, Shell Game: The Environmental and Social Impacts of Shrimp Aquaculture, is the first in a series that documents the dangers of shrimp aquaculture. Similar to the way industrialized agriculture focuses on mass production, regardless of the impacts to family farmers and the environment, aquaculture uses a factory-farming model that involves polluted ponds, the destruction of local natural resources and cheap labor in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Honduras. This shrimp is destined for the U.S. market because of an increasing demand for the popular seafood at an affordable price. Shrimp is the No. 1 seafood in the United States, and nearly 90 percent of it is imported.

"U.S. consumers need to know the whole story behind the great bargain prices of shrimp, which used to be a delicacy but now is on every menu at a deceptively low price. But there are costs behind that low price tag that consumers deserve to know about," said Andrianna Natsoulas, field director at Public Citizen's food program. "The shrimp cocktail you order at a restaurant comes at the expense of environmental destruction and displaced people."

"Not only is the environment destroyed when shrimp farms move in, but so are the local communities when they are forced to move out," said Natsoulas. "Local communities are dependent on the coastal zones for their livelihood. When those areas are destroyed, so are coastal traditions."

Take Action: Public Citizen urges consumers to pay attention to where their shrimp comes from and to buy wild-caught shrimp instead of farm-raised shrimp. By spring 2005, consumers will be able to make informed decisions because a mandatory country-of-origin label for seafood will be required by law. This label will tell consumers where shrimp comes from and whether it is farm-raised or wild-caught. Consumers also should ask restaurants where they buy their shrimp.