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Why Eating Imported Catfish is a Bad Idea

by Barbara Minton
See all TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Catfish has always been a Southern treat, but in the 1980’s the entire country seemed to discover the succulent fish almost overnight. Back then the catfish were homegrown. In the last decade or so, Vietnam has flooded the US market with its version of farmed catfish, at prices which bar competition. As a result, the US catfish industry is on the verge of extinction. But are Vietnamese catfish fit for human consumption? Evidence is mounting that the answer to that question is ‘no’.

In an attempt to stem the influx of Vietnamese catfish, in 2003 the US Congress passed a law that prevented the fish from being labeled as ‘catfish’. Under an FDA ruling, only species from the family Ictaluridae can now be sold as ‘catfish’. This has resulted in Vietnamese exporters of this fish labeling their products sold in the US as ‘basa fish’ or ‘bocourti’. In 2013, additional tariffs were levied against the imported catfish, but these interventions have done little to stop the influx, and today sales remain brisk.

Since the first imports of Vietnamese catfish, US producers have pointed out safety issues with them, including their being raised with antibiotics in polluted water. Not surprisingly, Le Chi Dzung, the head of the economic section at Vietnam’s embassy in Washington disputed the notion that catfish from his country are not safe.

Vietnamese catfish come from the Mekong River, known as one of the world’s most polluted waterways. Every year 220 thousand tons of industrial waste is dumped into the Mekong River. Rapid development and a population explosion have transformed the region from a mainly rural economy to a diverse mixture of industry, transportation, agriculture, and aquaculture. At the same time catfish farming and processing has exploded along the banks of the Mekong since 2006.

Plants able to process as much as one hundred tons of fish a day or more have sprung up alongside factories producing such products as cement.


The growth has been so dramatic that even Vietnamese health and aquaculture officials have warned farmers that their farming practices and water quality do not meet international standards. In 2013, Vietnam exported 6.7 billion dollars worth of seafood including catfish, up from 4.5 billion dollars worth in 2009.

In the last 35 years, the population of Vietnam has grown from approximately 35 million to a population of 85 million. Towns near the Cambodian border are a good example of the effects of uncontrolled growth. Houses on stilts line the river and city canals. Sewage from these houses goes directly into the Mekong where children swim in it, and people wash their clothes in it along with their dishes and their bodies. In this same water, they raise ducks and throw out their trash.

Pouring into this water is residue from lumber milling, and from the salt that is also produced along the Mekong delta. Ships refuel there. All this sewage, wastewater and industrial pollution ends up in the nearby catfish ponds.

Arsenic in the water is also a problem. A team of Swiss scientists assessed the deltas of the Mekong in southern Vietnam and Cambodia for elevated arsenic levels in 2006. They found large segments of the population to be a risk of chronic arsenic poisoning. Their abstract concluded that “Because symptoms of chronic arsenic poisoning usually take more than 10 years to develop, the number of future arsenic related ailments in Cambodia and Vietnam is likely to increase. Early mitigation measures should be a high priority.”

Vietnamese fish farmers have openly admitted that the number of fish per cubic meter exceeds both Vietnamese and American standards. Often the intake pipes that feed the fish ponds are adjacent to makeshift toilets and busy commercial boat traffic. The outflow from these ponds further pollutes the water. Small attempts are sometimes made to filter out debris from the water, but that does nothing to change the constituency of it.

Vietnamese catfish are raised for export to the US and EU and Japan. In 2009, approximately 85 million pounds of the catfish raised in the Mekong water landed in grocery stores and restaurants in the US. That is 14 times more than just six years earlier.

Of this amount, less than 2% was inspected by the FDA. Of the tiny fraction that was tested, much of the fish contained potentially dangerous carcinogens, veterinary drugs and salmonella. This is the result of unsafe farming practices and pollutants in one of the world’s dirtiest rivers.

See also:

Beware of Tilapia - the Fishy Fish

Research: Gulf Shrimp Widely Contaminated With Carcinogens

Massive Consumer Fraud in Mislabeled Fish Found in Oceana Investigation

FDA Ignores Abnormalities Found in GMO "Frankenfish" Salmon

For more information:

About the Author:

Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.

See other articles by the Barbara Minton here:

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