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Cheap Shot at Thai Shrimp Farming



When I first saw the cover of Cheap at my local Barnes and Noble bookstore, I quickly checked the index to make sure I wasn’t mentioned.  Nothing on me—but shrimp got six pages!


The book is based on the questionable premise that inexpensive goods and bargain prices are ruining the world.  Author Ellen Ruppel Shell uses Thai farmed shrimp as an example of a product that is cheap and contributes to the destruction of the environment and the lives of people.  To make her point, she digs up every piece of bad news on Thai shrimp farming that she can find, all that stuff that was originally published by the environmental community, about antibiotics, mangroves and labor problems.  Much of it is outdated information that has recycled through the environmental community for years.  She chooses isolated incidents to make her points and completely overlooks the progress and excellence of the Thai shrimp farming industry.


Shell says nothing about the accomplishments of the Thai shrimp farming industry.  Nothing about how Thailand has ended the use of antibiotics.  Nothing about the farmers moving up and out of the mangroves.  Nothing about the environmental friendly farming techniques that the industry has adopted.  Nothing about Thailand’s farm certification program.  Nothing about the traceability of Thai shrimp.  Nothing about the cleanliness of the shrimp product.  Nothing about its superior rating in international markets.


That’s bad reporting folks.  After reading what Shell had to say about Thai shrimp farming, I did some spot reading in other chapters and then set her book aside.


From her five or six pages on the Thai shrimp industry, here are some of her most ridiculous statements.  The bolds and italics are mine.


“White shrimp tend to be small, but tigers are the largest shrimp on record, some behemoths weighing in at just under three ounces each.”


The record is closer to 16 ounces!


“Under the best conditions, these ponds are well tended, adequately monitored, and not too tightly packed.  More typically, the ponds are dangerously overcrowded and indifferently managed, plagued by overfeeding, plankton blooms and inadequate water circulation.  Shrimp are carnivorous and require feed—usually fish meal—in amounts more than double their adult weight.”


Almost everything in this short paragraph is inaccurate.


“Beneath the smell lurks disease: As with any creatures in extremely crowded and filthy conditions, farmed shrimp are highly susceptible to infection, and despite massive inputs of antibiotics, many sicken and die.  As a result, roughly half of the more than one million acres of shrimp farms lie abandoned.  Meanwhile, the land is permanently contaminated.”


Shrimp ponds don’t smell, although under certain conditions, they can develop odor problems.  The rest of the paragraph distorts and exaggerates the reality of shrimp farming in Thailand.


“Likewise, anyone who has eaten ocean or freshwater shrimp caught wild knows that it shares little in common with its factory-farmed step-cousins.  Wild-caught shrimp has a firm texture and a bracing, briny taste brought on by clean living.  There is no whiff or antibiotic or pesticide residue, and no trail of human misery behind it.  Shrimp bred in crowded polluted ponds is slippery, even slimy, with a flat muddy taste that tells us all we need to know about its past.”


This is a case of a journalist not doing her job.  Maybe there’s some legal liability here, too.


Video: For a one-minute video advertising Cheap, click here.  You’ll be taken to the Amazon.com page where Cheap is being sold.  Scroll down the page until you see the map of the Unites States set against a yellow background.  Click on the triangle under the map to see the video.


Sources: 1. Cheap/The High Cost of Discount Culture (Chapter Eight.  Good Eats.  Pages 172 to 177 and page 183).  Ellen Ruppel Shell.  The Penguin Press (296 Pages, $25.95).  New York.  2009.  2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International.  July 30, 2009.

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