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Organic Versus Conventionally Farmed Shrimp
Jonathan Newman (firstname.lastname@example.org): I am puzzled by some responses and requests for organic shrimp by potential customers in Europe. Formulated feed does not comply with organic standards unless you can identify the species and exact origin of the fish meal, squid meal, krill meal and even the soya protein that’s in it. That’s a very, very expensive and unnecessary exercise, a carryover from the organic meat and dairy product industries. Wild caught fish can’t be organic because you don’t know what they have eaten, according to the requirements of organic certification schemes, but it is usually considered the best tasting—madness!
Carl Salamone (email@example.com): Organics certification for seafood is very confusing. Most consumers think wild fish is organic, but it isn’t
Ramon Macaraig (firstname.lastname@example.org): Carl, That’s because the science of “organics” does not exist and because its definition is founded on opinion.
[Bob Rosenberry (email@example.com): The following was not part of the discussion on The Shrimp List: A couple of decades ago I remember saying to Russ Allen, a shrimp farmer in the state of Michigan, that I didn’t understand why wild shrimp were not considered organic because what could be more organic than a wild shrimp eating all wild foods. Russ explained that in the United States the organic label is controlled by the United States Department of Agriculture and that it only applies to “farmed” crops—not to any crops collected from the wild.]
Durwood Dugger (firstname.lastname@example.org): I think there is far too much emphasis placed on organic food and organic shrimp. It probably costs more to advertise it than the premium that farmers get when the sell it.
There is not sufficient evidence in the medical literature to support claims that organic food is safer or healthier than conventionally grown food. While there may be some differences in the nutrients in organically and conventionally produced food, the variable nature of food production and handling makes it difficult to generalize results. Claims that organic food tastes better than non-organic food are generally not supported by evidence.
Patrick Wood (email@example.com): Organic shrimp feed has to be made from traceable raw materials like non-genetically-modified soya from Brazil and India or fishmeal checked by IFFO (an international, nonprofit organization that represents and promotes fishmeal, fish oil and marine ingredients worldwide) or the Marine Stewardship Council. Fish processing wastes can also be used in organic shrimp feeds, but must be certified first.
Michael Mogollon (firstname.lastname@example.org): Our beautiful oceans are quickly becoming polluted, and the fish we’re eating are not always good for us. That’s why some shrimp farmers in the United States are attempting to set standards for high-quality, healthy “organic” shrimp. Organic shrimp can be harvested one day and delivered the next, placing them in a higher overall quality category. Fresh always trumps frozen. Ask the chefs. In my opinion, the overall eating experience of fresh, high-quality organic shrimp with great color and texture and no known unhealthy chemicals is just better. Consumers seem to be waking up to that fact.
Francisco Tobías (email@example.com): What do you think about the use of more natural foods like polychaetes in shrimp feeds? Maybe, if this natural source of lipids and proteins was less expensive, we could enhance the quality of farmed shrimp. Do you think polychaetes will be used in shrimp feeds in the future?
Durwood Dugger (firstname.lastname@example.org): Michael, Jeff, Carl, Ramon and everyone else who’s tuning into this discussion: There have been numerous taste tests performed on high-quality farmed and wild-caught shrimp by Texas A&M University and the University of Florida. To my knowledge, none of the tests were able to determine any difference between wild and farmed shrimp.
That said, there could be differences in the flavor of farmed shrimp based on post-harvest refrigeration (or the lack of it) and feed ingredients—and salinity can impact flavor. Salinities above about 12 parts per thousand (ppt), for example, can produce sweeter tasting amino acid ratios (glycine, for example). Avoiding salinities below 12 ppt also helps reduce the possibility of geosmin, a naturally occurring organic compound produced by some species of cyanobacteria and actinomycetes that impart off-flavors to seafood.
I haven’t seen any scientific taste tests of high-quality, wild-caught, conventionally-farmed and organic-farmed shrimp, but I suspect that no difference would be found among them. I agree with Michael (above) that the ultimate ability to control both quality and flavor in shrimp lies with the feed and good farming practices and that it has little to do with organic or conventional shrimp farming.
Earlier in my career, I sold shrimp to some of the highest-end, white-table-cloth restaurants in the United States, including one where Wolfgang Puck was a chef. I did not come away from that experience with great respect for the chef’s ability to determine either seafood freshness or flavor by sight or feel, or how the chefs chose to handle them during preparation, frequently letting them sit out of refrigeration for hours in their hot kitchens. No argument that well-trained Chef’s know how to mix spices, entrees and textures to produce very visually and taste appealing foods, but when it comes to the average chef’s science training—and its useful applications in their kitchens—it’s and entirely different story.
Varying by country, the organic certification process is so absurdly bureaucratic and scientifically crude that it provide little to no scientifically testable assurances that organic foods are more nutritious, healthier or safer than non-organic foods.
With shrimp farming, the higher environmental input control of recirculating systems provides the greatest potential for farmers to control and improve product quality and flavor—organic or not. Spend your money wisely.
First, there is very good research from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) on shrimp flavors that discovered a discernible difference in taste between wild and farmed shrimp. Your example of Wolfgang Puck not being able to tell the difference is just evidence that he is much more of a commercial guy than an actual chef.
Second, while I do agree with you that taste is not consistent between organic and non-organic and that putting a definition on organic is all but impossible, I do believe that a more “natural” system results in better looking and better tasting shrimp. It’s just the commodity mind set “a shrimp is a shrimp” that discourages farmers from producing better tasting shrimp.
Che King Lee (email@example.com): Hi Daniel, I believe you, as long as the shrimp is from a nearby farm (less than one hour away) and maintained with ice and temperature at less than four degrees Celsius and cold room temperature below minus 18 degrees Celsius, we can maintain shrimp flavor. We’ve sampled shrimp that was in a cold room for four years that was marvelous!
Daniel Gruenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org): Lee, I studied under one Japan’s top sushi chefs and was quite surprised to learn that more often than not older, less fresh seafood had more flavor than live or freshly killed seafood. The Japanese saying kusarusunzen ga Ichiban umai translates to “food is most savory right before it spoils.” The trick here is how it’s handled and stored while it ages. So absolutely freshness per se is only important in a very rough sense. I have had two-day-old shrimp that taste better than anything freshly killed.
Patrick Wood (email@example.com): Daniel, sushi shrimp is cooked, not raw, so I’m not so sure what you say applies here. It’s easier to peel shrimp once microbial activity has started. To facilitate mechanical peeling, we have let green headless shrimp soak (immersion with chemicals) for two to three days before passing it through a Laitram peeler. I’ve heard that Italians love shrimp that has been held on ice, not soaked, and has a fishy smell.
Daniel Gruenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org): Patrick, we pioneered raw Penaeus vannamei sushi for the Japanese market, and now a significant portion of that market is raw, which tastes so much better, but the free amino acids that make raw shrimp more savory also enhance the flavor of cooked shrimp.
Michael Mogollon (email@example.com): “Tastes” differ around the world. I’m proudly American and Latin American and have the following biases and opinions on the taste of shrimp:
• To say frozen is just as good as fresh is like arguing that global warming is not happening. Argue as much as you want. I have better things to do. And by the way, when was the last time you bought a frozen steak, a frozen pork chop or frozen chicken?
• To say there is no value in organic, just keep drinking your Coke and eating your Doritos. We’ll see who meets their creator first.
In the USA commodity shrimp market, a shrimp is pretty much a shrimp. Size is the primary factor determining price, not quality. Since the majority of shrimp are consumed in restaurants, diners have no idea of what’s going on in the complex, multi-layered distribution process. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it is a reality. Consumers in the USA don’t have significant input into the shrimp market. Any effect the consumer has is indirect in that restaurants that sell really bad shrimp consistently will eventually go out of business.
There are a number of flavor factors that shrimp feed formulators should be focusing on to improve farmed shrimp flavor, and they don’t require dubious more expensive “organic” feed ingredients to accomplish them.
Durwood Dugger (firstname.lastname@example.org): Michael, no offense, but you seem to be lumping good nutrition with “organic”. Organic as far as I know does not prevent eating excessive levels of “organic” simple carbs, sugars and fats. “Organic” itself does not and cannot impart good nutrition and eating habits to consumers. There have been quite a few studies on organic versus traditionally produced foods, and they have produced no significant difference in nutrition or food safety.
There is no sufficient evidence in the medical literature to support claims that organic food is safer or healthier than conventionally grown food. While there may be some differences in the nutrient and anti-nutrient contents of organically and conventionally produced food, the variable nature of food production and handling makes it difficult to generalize results. Claims that organic food tastes better are generally not supported by evidence.
I don’t think “organic” foods are bad, but I don’t see any scientific evidence that they are better than traditionally produced foods.
Considering that less than 3% of global food production is organic, that in the West the human health and life span has continued to grow over the past 100 years and that more and more of us are reaching the genetic limits of aging, it’s additionally hard to argue that “organic” or any form of super nutrition—if there is one—is going to have significant payoffs in either health or longevity. Eating a broad range of foods and getting moderate exercise trumps specific diets and fad nutrition plans, according to almost every scientific study that I’ve read.
Daniel Gruenberg (email@example.com): Durwood, I think we agree more than we disagree on most points. There are valid arguments on both sides. I focus on adjusting nutrient parameters to create the most natural pond environment with all its diversity to stabilize the chemical environment as well as provide the microbial diversity that I think is critical. That being said, “organic” as defined by most standards is a load of nonsense. I think this is where you are coming from. I formulate my feeds without genetically modified organisms, use different ingredients to enhance health, flavor and color and manage the ponds with diatoms and copepods, which are super shrimp foods.
We don’t use any drugs or antibiotics, but I use inorganic fertilizer because I don’t want to mess up the marine bacteria diversity with animal dung as some of the crazy organic standards say we should.
Dallas Weaver (firstname.lastname@example.org): Daniel, as usual, your comments make sense. Organic standards are a marketing game, not science based. For example, to get the required nitrogen supply in plant agriculture, they allow composed manures, which increase the risk of contamination with a very nasty E. coli strain from cattle that can kill people.
To top off the marketing game, organic standards forbid adding phytase to the shrimp’s digestive enzymes. Phytase would allow shrimp to utilize all the phosphorous in plant-based diets and eliminate much of the phosphorus in shrimp waste. Organic standards effectively replace anything to solve this problem with pure non-scientific or rationally-justified thinking that sounds good for PR and marketing.
Sources: 1, The Shrimp List (a mailing list for shrimp farmers). Subjects: (1) Organic Markets and (2) Organic and Fresh vs. Frozen. October 21 to 23, 2016. 2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, November 3, 2016.
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