By Margaret Hedderman
Order up a plate of pan-seared tilapia and what do you expect? Glistening butter and fresh herbs? A side of chloramphenicol, nitrofurans and malachite green, all of which are toxic to humans and banned in the United States? I’ll have a 1994 Pinot Noir with that, thank you.
80% of seafood sold in America is actually imported from overseas. NBC recently aired video footage of a Vietnam fish farm raising seafood in raw sewage and spraying them with antibiotics and toxic chemicals to keep them alive and increase production. Jeff Rossen reported tests performed by the Alabama Department of Agriculture found 40-50% of imported seafood contains toxins.
Causing anemia, cancer and birth defects, these chemicals have been making the news since 2007 for their wide use in China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia. While grocery stores are required to label the country of origin for seafood, restaurants are not. I guess Emeril doesn’t like the ring malachite green gives to his menus.
For years, local food movements have propounded the virtues of supporting local farmers and sustainable growing practices, but the majority of Americans have failed to catch on due in part to high-costs and accessibility. There are, however, emerging technologies that are capable of producing not only organic vegetables, but healthy, toxin free fish in an urban environment.
NBC also highlighted aquaponics this week as an alternative method to farm raised fish and organic vegetable production. A combination of hydroponics (soil-less farming) and fish farming, aquaponics creates an ecosystem and symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. The plants filter and cleanse the water in the fish tanks while receiving nutrients, like natural fertilizer, from the fish waste.
Unlike traditional farming, aquaponics is capable of mass food production in an urban environment with little to no impact on remaining wildlands and waterways. Commercial aquaponics farms, similar to Growing Power of Milwaukee, featured at the above link, are new to the agricultural industry, but the promise of this sustainable agriculture is particularly enticing when reports of tainted food and contaminated water sources become more and more frequent.
So, why then is the development of these systems not put into hyper drive instead of not becoming a viable option for another twenty years? Here we turn to John Connelly, the head of a fish trade representation company, who, when asked by Rossen, said any unauthorized use of antibiotics was “inappropriate,” but also that “studies do not indicate that Americans are deeply interested in the source of their fish or other proteins.”
From the mouth of the fish importing industry itself, if Americans don’t care where their food comes from and how it’s treated, why should we? This is also why the FDA seems more reactive to food hazards than proactive in developing healthy, sustainable solutions like aquaponics. Until Americans demand fresh food, free of carcinogens and other toxins, nothing will ever be done. As long as we continue to vote for representatives who support foreign food and mass monocultures, the majority of our population will continue to eat dangerous food unaware.