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Myth: Seafood is a more sustainable choice than beef

A Belieze shrimp farm established in an area previously occupied by mangroves.

TRUTH:  By now, you’re probably familiar with some of the environmental and social issues concerning our meat supply.  If you’re not, you can check out my posts about organic food and why fast food is cheap.  In a nutshell, fast food is cheap because it’s funded by government subsidies and raised using the most efficient yet least sustainable methods.

There’s a lot of media hype around American beef and crops but very little about seafood, as most of it isn’t raised domestically. And don’t kid yourself, just because it’s not raised domestically doesn’t mean that the production is any better.

Taco Bell’s shrimp is as cheap as their beef yet the shrimp is traveling further and doing as much, if not more damage.   Beef consumption has doubled over the last 45 years, a demand which is very difficult to meet.  Seafood has more than quadrupled in the last 55 years, making the demand even more difficult to meet.  And the ways we’ve tried to keep up have been just as unethical and energy (oil) intensive as cheap cattle.

Think your cheaply farmed shrimp (from Asia) is raised pesticide or antibiotic free?  Think again.  Don’t you think food companies would promote that on the packaging if it were the case?!  The fact is this: similar to conventional methods of farming, we are creating a shift in the aquatic environment with the development of ‘aquaculture’.  Not only do we waste the oil to transport tons of shrimp across the world, but we’re creating an unnatural, unsustainable environment. 

Though scientists estimate that the number of living organisms in the ocean has remained the same, there are fewer of the species we eat and more sea life like jellyfish and algae.  This shift marks an unsustainable trend: we’re depleting our sources.  Plus, we’re destroying the environment for cheap, unsustainable food.  Shrimp farmers have cleared thousands of acres of mangroves (which protect shorelines, promote biodiversity, and can be a renewable resource) to raise shrimp in a way that is 10x more impactful than beef.

BOTTOM LINE:  In every food category, there are options to consider.  The quality of food, the environmental, social, or nutritional impact it might have, among other things should guide your food choices.  Seafood can be more sustainable than beef, but not always – you get what you pay for so if it’s cheap, consider what the hidden costs might be.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  1. Science News: The Cost of Meat and Fish
  2. Shrimp’s Carbon Footprint

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