(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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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