Seafood Safety and Sustainability

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“Food safety is an issue of global concern. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the quality and safety of their food. In the United States 80% of seafood is imported and consumers are interested in knowing where their food comes from and under what conditions it was produced.

Some seafood imported into the U.S. comes from foreign producers where food safety regulations are lax which leads to poor production practices and low quality fish. Quality and safety issues include diseased fish resulting from densely packed growing conditions, use of antibiotics, and poor feed quality.

Because of the sheer volume of imported seafood, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not able to perform adequate testing. News articles, such as “Tainted seafood reaching American tables” are worrisome.

Seafood Watch is a program that developed out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the 1990s. Seafood Watch gives consumers guidance on selecting sustainable seafood sources, both wild caught and farmed. Seafood Watch recommends farmed tilapia (blue, Mozambique, and Nile tilapia) grown in recirculating systems in the U.S.and Canada as a best source for tilapia. Other best choices include blue tilapia grown in raceways in Peru and Nile tilapia grown in ponds in Ecuador. Good alternatives include tilapia (blue, Mozambique, and Nile tilapia) that is grown in ponds and net pens in China, Taiwan, Mexico, and Indonesia.

While advisory programs like Seafood Watch help consumers select seafood, certification programs like those provided by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) ensure that seafood produced by the aquaculture industry follows responsible and sustainable culturing practices.

“The ASC’s mission is to transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility using efficient market mechanisms that create value across the chain. Compliance with ASC’s farm standards show that aquaculture can be an increasingly sustainable, socially-responsible and environmentally well-managed industry.”

The GAA advocates Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification. “BAP certification defines the most important elements of responsible aquaculture and provides quantitative guidelines by which to evaluate adherence to those practices for processing plants, farms, hatcheries and feed mills.

These certification problems provide uniform food production standards and give consumers confidence that the seafood they purchase was produced according to quality standards.

Certification standards are not just empty rhetoric, but are being embraced by seafood distributors and retail markets.

Whole Foods is an American supermarket chain that specializes in organic produce. Whole Foods outlines their policy for purchasing tilapia.

  • No use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian products in feed.
  • No genetically modified or cloned seafood.
  • Minimizing the impacts of fish farming on the environment by protecting sensitive habitats such as mangrove forests and wetlands, monitoring water quality to prevent pollution and sourcing feed ingredients responsibly.
  • No added preservatives such as sodium bisulfite, sodium tri-polyphosphate (STP) and sodium metabisulfite.
  • Traceability from farm to store.
  • Third-party audits

Aquaculture farms in China and other Asian countries have to embrace the need for certification. This increased demand prompted the recent training of 35 additional ASC auditors. Producers who adhere to food certification standards will find greater acceptance in U.S. markets.”

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