Wednesday, December 2, 2015

02/12/2015: Risk v hazard: A dispassionate look at pangasius
Pangasius farmers, Vietnam (Image: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
The stunning growth of Vietnam’s pangasius industry over the past decade and a half has captured the attention of bargain-hunting seafood buyers around the world, the Global Aquaculture Advocate reports.   

The catfish species is one of the most affordable whitefish options on the wholesale market, available for US$2 per pound, or less, for frozen fillets.

Also taking notice of the boom were a host of NGOs hoping to steer the burgeoning industry to more sustainable practices, a largely successful endeavour by many accounts. But along the way, as the incredibly affordable product changed the dynamics of international seafood trade, it also became fodder for mass media reports preying on consumer fears about the safety of the foods they feed their families.

Fair or not, the 'everyday' fish came to symbolise the commodity-driven seafood industry of the 21st century and the often-contentious climate surrounding its trade.

Producers of the controversial catfish species Pangasius hypophthalmus (also known as swai) made for easy targets, given their sector’s previously lax regulations, even laxer payment terms and the competitive industry-wide thrust for greater volumes, which have surged above 1 million metric tons annually. Despite strengthening footholds in various markets, the industry’s rapid and aggressive ascension left it vulnerable to harsh criticism:

  • A 2008 French newspaper article described a fish that was “full of poison” because of the “heavily polluted Mekong River” waters in which they are grown.
  • Three years later, an infamous documentary, Das Erste: “The Pangasius Lie,” aired on the German TV channel NDR, heavily damaging the industry’s reputation in the eyes of viewers. The program claimed widespread use of hazardous chemicals — DDT, arsenic, pesticides and pharmaceuticals — banned in Europe.
  • On the other side of the Atlantic, the US catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) industry, one of the most outspoken critics of pangasius simultaneously engaged in a public relations war against catfish from China, lodged numerous allegations against Vietnam exporters based on poor water quality and the presence of illegal substances.
  • The safety of pangasius remains at the very core of the US government’s pending action to create a new inspection bureau within the US Department of Agriculture, stripping oversight responsibilities from the Food and Drug Administration. Despite widespread criticism of the program’s hefty price tag, the measure’s ultimate passage seems inevitable.
Read the full article in the Global Aquaculture Advocate HERE.

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