When you hear the word, “Icelandic”, one thinks of clear cold fjords, clear crisp air and water, and an unspoiled clean environment. All of which is true. Iceland is what you expect it to be. Seafood from Iceland is excellent. However, we may have an issue here.
Seems as if there is a seafood company called Icelandic USA, which sells US consumers catfish from China. China is about as un-Icelandic as you can get. The only fjords in China are mispelled automobiles. In many places, China is an open sewer, especially the southeast. It is polluted, the air is hideous and the waters may be fit to rinse iron slag but trust me on this one, you do not want your catfish grown in them.
This article in the Washington Post should get lots and lots of attention. It represents a real dilemma with some crucial aspects of free global trade. Free trade between very different cultures can have some very dangerous consequences. Food quality is just one of them.
American growers, farmers and industry operate with many tough and expected regulations designed to protect the American consumer. Free trade with China has ruined many of these producers and made them look like fools to try and compete with a China disconnected from even rudimentary responsible business practices. Better start reading your labels.
Farmed in China's Foul Waters, Imported Fish Treated With Drugs
Traditional Medicine, Banned Chemicals Both Used
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 6, 2007; Page A01
WUGONG LAKE, China -- Perched above the banks of the catfish farm he owns is Zhu Zhiqiu's secret weapon for breeding healthy fish: the medicine shed. Inside are iodine bottles, vitamin packets and Chinese herbal concoctions that he claims substitute for antibiotics.
Zhu's fish farm, in a village on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, sends about 2.7 million catfish fillets each year to the United States through an importer in Virginia. Despite his best efforts -- he has dozens of employees clearing trash from the water each day, and the fish are fed sacks of fish meal more expensive than rice -- Zhu's fish sometimes get sick. Then he brings out the drugs.
"It's standard practice," he said. "Everyone uses them to keep fish healthy."
Chinese exporters like him have seized much of the U.S. market, accounting for 22 percent of all imports, because their fish are cheaper to raise.
The fish are being raised, however, in a country whose waterways are an ongoing environmental problem, tainted by sewage, pesticides, heavy metals and other pollutants. The situation is worst in the southern half of the country, where Zhu's farm is and where industrial runoff accumulates.
Like other fish farmers throughout the world, catfish growers in China turn to a variety of potions. But the extent to which they use traditional Chinese medicine, which cannot be tested for as easily in the Western countries that import fish, is unusual. Zhu claims to use only safe and legal drugs, but it was clear that some of his competitors have not been so scrupulous.
The competitors spike the water with banned substances to keep their farmed fish alive. Batches of seafood traded at the Shanghai fish market this week, for example, carried the tell-tale greenish tinge of malachite green, a disinfectant powder that has been banned in China for five years because it is a suspected carcinogen but is still commonly used.
Illegal substances like malachite green keep showing up in Chinese seafood shipped to the United States, provoking a partial U.S. ban on such shipments last week. It was the latest development in an ongoing global awakening about the risks of Chinese-made products, from toys tainted with lead paint to pet-food ingredients containing a deadly industrial chemical.
Using illegal disinfectants and antibiotics "is a lazy way of raising fish," Zhu said. "But it is extremely effective."
Many of the "Southern-style" catfish fillets on U.S. grocery shelves these days are indeed from the south -- of China.