Shrimp’s Carbon Footprint Is 10x Higher Than Beef’s

Cover of "Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethica...

Cover via Amazon

“Shrimp lovers don’t need to crash a fancy party to enjoy premium, seasoned-to-perfection shrimp,” announced a Taco Bell press release heralding the chain’s “Pacific Shrimp Taco,” which featured a half-dozen “premium shrimp” for just $2.79.

Marketing campaigns like Taco Bell’s, along with Red Lobster‘s “Endless Shrimp” promotions, crystallize shrimp’s transformation from special-treat food to everyday cheap fare.

What happened?

Twenty years ago, 80% of shrimp consumed here came from domestic wild fisheries. Today, the United States imports 90% of the shrimp consumed here. We bring in a staggering 1.2 billion pounds of it annually, mainly from farms in Asia. Between 1995 and 2008, the inflation-adjusted price of wild-caught Gulf shrimp plunged 30%.

In his 2008 book Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, Canadian journalist Taras Grescoe took a hard look at the Asian operations that supply our shrimp. His conclusion:

The simple fact is, if you’re eating cheap shrimp today, it almost certainly comes from a turbid, pesticide- and antibiotic-filled, virus-laden pond in the tropical climes of one of the world’s poorest nations.

These factory farms generate poverty in the nations that house them; they privatize and cut down mangrove forests that once sustained fishing communities, leaving dead zones in their wake.

A new study from University of Oregon researcher J. Boone Kauffman finds that the flattening of Southeast Asian mangrove forests is devastating in another way, too. Mangroves are rich stores of biodiversity and of carbon, and when they’re cleared for farming, that carbon enters the atmosphere as climate-warming gas.

Fifty to sixty percent of shrimp farms occupy cleared mangroves, and the shrimp that emerges from them has a carbon footprint ten times higher than the most notoriously climate-destroying foodstuff: beef from cows raised on cleared Amazon rainforest.

Mr. Kaufman calls shrimp-farming in Asia “the equivalent of slash-and-burn agriculture,” because farm operators typically “only last for 5 years or so before the buildup of sludge in the ponds and the acid sulfate soil renders them unfit for shrimp,” he told Science.

Cheap shrimp, like cheap oil, is looking increasingly like a dangerous delusion.

Via Mother Jones.

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