China Aquaculture: a U.S. Public Health Threat?
“How Antibiotic-Tainted Seafood From China Ends Up on Your Table,” (BloombergBusinessweek, December 15, 2016), describes the traditional “sustainable” Chinese use of animal waste to feed fish. Since the beginning of agriculture, animal waste has fertilized crops (it’s the organic way!). But the addition of antibiotics to boost animal size and disease resistance shifts the microbe ecosystem in animal waste. Some microbes gain resistance to antibiotics, and are then flushed into Chinese fish ponds, adding antibiotic resistance to microbes in fish later shipped (or transshipped) to the U.S..
The individual fish are okay to eat, but the antibiotic microbes migrate from Chinese pigs to fish to U.S. consumers, ecosystems, and hospitals.
In “China tackles antimicrobial resistance,” (Science, Aug. 31, 2016), the costs and source of the problem reported:
According to a May report from the Wellcome Trust in London, antimicrobial resistance in China could cause 1 million premature deaths annually by 2050 and cost the country $20 trillion. Antibiotics are currently widely available without prescriptions in China for both human and livestock use. The country accounts for half the world’s annual antimicrobial drug consumption. “Antimicrobial resistance is a problem created by human behavior—largely through the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in health care, as well as in animal husbandry,”
The Science article reports the Chinese government is taking the problem seriously and taking steps:
As part of a national action plan unveiled on 26 August, the Chinese central government said that it would mobilize the efforts of 14 ministries and departments including health, food and drugs, and agriculture. By 2020, the government aims to develop new antimicrobials, make sales of the drugs by prescription only, ramp up surveillance of human and veterinary usage, and increase training and education for both medical professionals and consumers on their proper use.
However, political pronouncements may or may not lead to actual reforms. Economists focus on incentives (economics is mostly about incentives, the rest is commentary). So what incentives will the announced Chinese “national action plan” create? It’s unclear. The size and scope of the problems are discussed in detail in “How Antibiotic-Tainted Seafood From China Ends Up on Your Table“
…Livestock pens are scattered among the thousands of seafood farms that form the heart of the [China’s] aquaculture industry, the largest in the world.
Beside one of those fish farms near Zhaoqing…a farmhand … hoses down the cement floor of a piggery where white and roan hogs sniff and snort. The dirty water from the pens flows into a metal pipe, which empties directly into a pond shared by dozens of geese. As the yellowish-brown water splashes from the pipe, tilapia flap and jump, hungry for an afternoon feeding.
Chinese agriculture has thrived for thousands of years on this kind of recycling—the nutrients that fatten the pigs and geese also feed the fish. But the introduction of antibiotics into animal feed has transformed ecological efficiency into a threat to global public health.
Various organization provide certification training, inspection, and certification, including NSF, the National Sanitation Foundation:
Manufacturers, regulators and consumers look to NSF International for the development of public health standards and certification programs that help protect the world’s food, water, consumer products and environment. Our mission is to protect and improve global human health. As an independent, accredited organization, we develop standards, and test and certify products and systems. We provide auditing, education and risk management solutions for public health and the environment.