In 2009, Americans spent over $75 billion on seafood. Truly, when that kind of money is talking, the whole world listens.
As such, it's important to be very careful about what message we transmit through this massive microphone. When we spend our dollars at seafood merchants that are pursuing business models which take environmental issues into account, we offer these purveyors financial incentive to continue along this path. On the other hand, if we buy toxic farmed shrimp or pirate-caught Chilean sea bass from a seafood merchant that has no compunction about selling it, we reward this type of nefarious behavior and communicate to the marketplace at large that we, the consumers, don't particularly care about the ramifications of our seafood choices.
If we shift our purchasing dollars away from larger companies and toward competitors that operate under a more eco-sensitive paradigm and conscious of toxins in the food supply, perhaps we can encourage these operators to change their ways.
A big-box store (also supercenter, superstore, or megastore) is a physically large retail establishment, usually part of a chain. Costco and Sam's Club are examples of big-box stores which offer discounts to their members by purchasing very large volumes while compromising the integrity and safety of the food supply.
Numerous environmental groups, such as the Mangrove Action Project and a number of Canadian anti-salmon farming organizations, have spoken out against Costco's seafood operation in recent years. Greenpeace, too, has been campaigning on this issue since June 2010, highlighting the company's lack of a comprehensive sustainable seafood policy and willingness to sell unsustainable products as long as they are certified by a "reputable" body (Costco has conveniently left this adjective undefined).
Costco has recently removed a number of key unsustainable species from its shelves, but the company refuses to elaborate on its policy or adopt any strict scientific benchmarks in its sourcing practices, and thus these dubious seafood items may yet reappear in Costco's freezers.
Farmed fish, once a fledgling industry, now accounts for 50 percent of the fish consumed globally, according to a report by an international team of researchers. Unfortunately, Big-box stores stock a more than 90% of their supply frozen fish from farmed sources.
The lack of proper public education and inadequate labeling of fish continues to be a major public health risk worldwide. Most food manufacturers and big box stores refuse to, or are not required to properly label their fish as farmed or wild. That's likely because the public is largely unaware of the dangers associated with cheap, high profit farmed fish that is so abundant in the conventional food supply.
Big-box stores are typically the first to accept genetically modified foods since large biotech companies have direct affiliations via food manufacturers who directly supply them. Costco will certainly be one of the first on board to accept genetically modified salmon, GMO monster fish which have already been given approval by American safety authorities.
Farm-raised salmon contain significantly more dioxins and other potentially cancer-causing pollutants than do salmon caught in the wild, which was states by several studies that tested contaminants in fish bought around the world. Salmon farmed in Northern Europe had the most contaminants, followed by North America and Chile.
Texas Tech University researchers have found evidence of antibiotics -- one a suspected human carcinogen -- after testing farm-raised shrimp samples of international origin in imported seafood going directly to grocery store shelves.
Why would scientists be trying to steer people away from safe, responsibly caught fish?
It is true that outdated data is a concern -- the dynamic nature of the ocean means we're always playing catch-up -- but who is more likely to offer a precautionary and wise course of action: a scientist who remains financially unaffected by the vicissitudes of the seafood market, or a fishmonger who is quite clearly benefiting (in the short run) from the sale of as much fish as he can get his hands on?
Beware of Farmed Fish and Seafood From Big-Box Stores
1. Farmed fish are grown in floating netcages and impact wild fish and other marine species by spreading sea lice, disease and parasites.
2. Farmed fish are given antibiotics, other drugs and pesticides. The drug-laden wastes from surplus food and feces pollute the marine environment and cause marine mammal deaths and waste build up.
3. The introduction of exotic species is extremely harmful to local ecosystems, causing algae blooms and is one of the greatest threats to nature.
4. Farmed fish escape from their netcages--often by the thousands--and can displace fragile wild stocks from their habitat.
Human Health & Economic Impacts of Fish Farming Include:
1. Farmed fish receive more antibiotics by weight than any other livestock. The are given the same antibiotics that used to treat human illness. This contributes to the dangerous increase of antibiotic-resistant disease worldwide.
2. Farmed fish contain higher levels of unhealthy saturated fats and lower levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. A U.S. Agriculture Department study found farmed Atlantic salmon contain 70 percent more fat than wild Atlantic salmon because of the high fat content in their feed. Farmed Atlantic salmon contain 200 percent more fat than wild Pacific pink or chum salmon.
3. Thousands of jobs depend on the health of wild fish and all the species the fish support. It is essential that politicians and citizens also give serious consideration to the jobs that are put at risk by the fish farming industry’s current destructive practices.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.