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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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The Dark Side of those Shrimp Buffets

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 4, 2012

On a visit to the coast of Ecuador 20 years ago, I saw the way shrimp farm ponds had wiped out the dense, productive mangrove swamps.   Since these swamps had been the main natural breeding ground for shrimp, it amounted to a policy of killing the shrimp to grow shrimp, mainly for those all-you-can-eat buffets so popular in the United States.  Now New Zealand’s Kennedy Warne has written a book about the problem worldwide, called Let Them Eat Shrimp.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview  in Grist:

Public awareness and consumer pressure are two key ways to secure a future for mangroves and the people who rely on them. Mangroves don’t have the charisma of forests like the Amazon. Rock stars and celebrities don’t line up to lend their names to “save the mangrove” initiatives.

I think consumers need to look long and hard at their consumption of farmed shrimp. (And two-thirds of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported farmed product.) Consumers should be asking their suppliers where the shrimp they’re selling comes from, and trying to determine not just if it is sustainably farmed, but also what are the social impacts of that farming.

When I was in the U.S. on a book tour recently, I was told that social justice was not a motivating factor for American consumers. That unless I could identify some kind of health problem with eating farmed shrimp, changing consumer behavior was unlikely to happen. But I think change is happening. More and more people are making connections between the food on their plates and the people and pathways involved in producing it. We have the opportunity to make informed, enlightened, ethical choices. For the good of the planet and some of its least visible citizens, we should exercise those choices.

Read the full interview here.


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