There is a major rise in the United States in the popularity of cheap seafood from abroad. While there is nothing wrong with some smoked salmon produced in Norway, other types of fish that enter the country are not as healthy as people believe them to be. One of the biggest growing sales of fish in the US belongs to fish like tilapia, basa and swai. With cheap price tags this fish seems like a great deal, but there may be more to it.
The first issue with these fish is how they are produced. Tilapia, basa and swai are all fresh water fish. Tilapia variants can be found in fresh water bodies throughout the world. Basa and swai on the other hand are found in the Mekong River in Vietnam. All of these fish variants have very small wild caught industries, but they are used primarily for local markets at their point of origin. The majority of exported fish of these variants comes from commercial farming in South East Asia, primarily from nations like China, Vietnam and the Philippines. All of these fish are mass-produced in crowded aquaculture tanks and are fed soy-based foods, if they are lucky. Being bottom feeders and filter feeders these fish will consume any waste or contaminants that enter the water, and I mean anything. I am going to let your imagination take over for that one. In order to keep the fish alive until harvest they are continuously fed antibiotics in order to thwart off disease that can kill the entire stock. Sure there is organic production of tilapia in the US, but it consists of less than 1% of all tilapia sold in the US. It is also nearly impossible to recognize US produced tilapia unless properly labeled as such.
There is one bright side to its production though. In order to pass FDA inspection for US import, all processing plants that eventually fillet and package the fish must be near spotless. I have seen how some of their production facilities and how their sanitization protocols are treated and I have been impressed. Not only do they follow every regulation to the letter, but also they take action to sanitize their facility above & beyond the FDA demands. Let’s be honest though; after being fed antibiotics all its life, the cleanliness of the processing facilities only helps to keep the situation from being any worse and does not improve on everything that these fish lack.
Health wise, seafood can be some of the best things to add to your diet. It is a well-known fact that by eating salmon at least 2 times a week you can reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. Yet even with that information, there are serious outliers. Let us start with tilapia. Tilapia is pretty much the complete opposite of salmon when it comes to your health. Tilapia is loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which firstly we already eat too much of in our society. Omega-6 in excess can cause and exacerbate inflammation so much that it makes bacon look heart healthy. Inflammation can lead to heart disease and can exacerbate symptoms for people who suffer from asthma and arthritis.
Swai and basa on the other hand have their own set of problems. Often called pangasius, are actually iridescent sharks. They are commonly found in smaller sizes sold as aquarium fish at pet stores, but that does not cover all of the issues. First of all, nearly all of these fish are produced on the Mekong River in aquaculture facilities. The Mekong River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, and there is no regulation to filter the water used in these facilities. This can cause heightened levels of heavy metals and toxins from the polluted water. Both fish are not fed anything close to their natural food. They are fed food pellets made from fish remains (often swai and basa remains) mixed with soy and antibiotics. They are also treated without regulation with growth hormones to make them profitable much faster. These fish are also linked to many cases of food poisoning due to contamination from their point of origin. There is no production of such fish in the US or outside South East Asia.
For many it can be very tempting to buy fish when it costs $2 per Lbs. at the supermarket, especially when money is tight. But do not forget, that by eating these species of fish, you are often damaging your health. Saving a couple dollars today may cost you thousands in medical bills tomorrow. We usually do not make direct recommendations and usually ask that you make your own judgments. We highly recommend that you do not eat these fish. It says allot when we would eat a big mac before touching tilapia, swai or basa. Think of your health before your wallet the next time you are at the store or are eating out. Do not eat tilapia, swai or basa!