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Cheap, potentially unsafe foreign shrimp driving U.S. shrimpers out of business

Cheap, potentially unsafe foreign shrimp driving U.S. shrimpers out of business

By Allison Triarsi
11 News

HOUSTON—Before you reach for that shrimp cocktail, you need to know what you could be eating.

Recently the FDA issued warnings about eating foreign shrimp because of the chemicals found inside of it.

What’s more, Gulf Coast shrimpers say they’re being put out of business by the foreign imports, which may not even be safe to eat.

Despite recent federal import restrictions, 150 million pounds of farm-raised shrimp from China still makes its way to tables in the U.S. every year.

But the FDA found Chinese shrimp to be contaminated with outlawed antibiotics known to cause cancer in lab mice.

“This is a seafood that is especially dangerous, because the way that it’s grown. So if you can choose wild-caught shrimp from the U.S., you’re a lot safer,” Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch said.

In all, 81 percent of the shrimp we eat comes from foreign countries like China, Thailand and Indonesia – countries where the pond-raised shrimp are fed antibiotics and other chemicals with little to no government oversight.

The result? The foreign shrimp we eat at most restaurants may not be safe, but it’s cheap.

That’s why the dwindling number of shrimp boats sit idly at docks in Freeport and across the Gulf Coast.

In the past, hundreds of shrimp boats would dock outside of Gary Gore’s Western Seafood processing plant.

“There were, at one time when I was a child, there were nine different processing plants. Now, there’s just one, and that’s us,” Gore said.

Gore said the Gulf’s shrimp supply is plentiful, but it’s becoming too expensive to harvest. In the 1970s, Gore got $5 a pound for shrimp. Now he gets half that – all while paying higher fuel costs.

“We have to diversify. We have to cut corners everywhere we can just to survive,” Gore said.

And things just got tougher. A federal investigation is going on right now into three very large U.S. processors allegedly buying cheap pond-raised foreign shrimp and illegally labeling and selling it as more expensive U.S. wild-caught shrimp.

Federal agents say the companies will likely be indicted soon. Shrimpers now worry what will happen if the mislabeled foreign shrimp makes someone sick.

“When you have a scare on a particular foodstuff, it’s going to drive people totally away from the market. Not necessarily to you, but away from the market overall,” Patrick Riley, general manager of Western Seafood, said.

Experts say fear could potentially collapse the market altogether.

From the 5,000 shrimp boats that trawled the Gulf Coast waters in 2000, last year just 880 ventured out to sea.

To save itself, the dying industry has formed the Southern Shrimp Alliance, an eight-state conglomerate lobbying for laws to protect the U.S. shrimper and help all of us realize what we’re really eating when we bite into foreign shrimp.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance recently worked out a deal with Outback Steakhouse in Louisiana to agree to sell nothing but wild-caught U.S. shrimp in its restaurants in that state.

There is also mandatory labeling on packages of shrimp sold at grocery stores saying where that shrimp came from.

Those watching cholesterol needn’t scrimp on shrimp

By Jill Wendholt Silva

August 10, 2005

As with an urban legend that grows at each retelling, sometimes certain foods get a bum rap they can’t shake.

In the 1990s, shrimp was one of those foods shunned for its high cholesterol. But a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1996 found that although they are high in cholesterol, shrimp did not adversely affect production of cholesterol in the body.

David Heber, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California Los Angeles, and author of “What Color Is Your Diet?” goes over 15 common myths about nutrition, including the notion that eating shrimp raises cholesterol levels.

“The American Heart Association acknowledged a long time ago that shrimp had been wrongly accused, but lots of people, including some doctors, still believe this myth.”

To clear up any lingering confusion, boiled or steamed shrimp has been shown to contain about the same amount of cholesterol as the white meat in chicken. Low in fat and calories – especially when flavored with a low-fat marinade – shrimp also offers omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and niacin. Shrimp also are mineral-rich, supplying iron, zinc and copper.

The Rockefeller University Study

A study performed in the mid 1990s at Rockefeller University (New York, USA) concluded that eating steamed shrimp raised blood cholesterol levels when compared with a low-cholesterol diet. However, the shrimp diet raised levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) more than it increased levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol”), and the resulting HDL to LDL ratio was favorable. Triglycerides were also lower on this diet when compared to an egg-based diet with equal amounts of cholesterol.


A serving of a dozen large shrimp contains 130 mg of cholesterol. This is not a health concern, because shrimp is low-fat with a rich content of highly unsaturated fatty acids, which lead to the formation of high-density lipids, commonly known as “good cholesterol”. Consuming shrimp may actually lower blood cholesterol levels.

Scientists have concluded that a healthy diet can include shrimp, boiled or broiled.