The dangers of farm-raised tilapia from China | Healthquest | -- Your State. Your News.

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The dangers of farm-raised tilapia from China

tilapia120711_optBY DR. MICHAEL L. SMITH

Appeared originally on Studio V Health Wordpress

As a proponent of healthy eating and educating the public on sound evidence based research, I find it very alarming that there is a significant trend in this country whereby many people accept as fact, “the foods that we import that are so abundant in our supermarkets must be okay to eat, otherwise the government wouldn’t allow it”. Sound strange?

Well, I heard one of my patients say this to me just the other day when we were having a discussion about the pros and cons of eating fish as a regular source of protein in our diets. Let me introduce to you, what has become extremely popular on the average Americans dinner table over the past few years and that is tilapia. You’ve seen it, perhaps have eaten it at home or even in your local restaurant. In fact, it’s become so popular that Kevin Fitzsimmons, a professor at the University of Arizona and board member of HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries, that sells Chinese farm-raised tilapia was recently quoted, “Tilapia is going to be basically where chicken is with poultry”.

The U.S. currently imports about 80 percent of the frozen tilapia from China. So what’s the problem with this scenario?

Consumers need to be made more aware of the problems with eating tilapia that is imported from this world’s largest producer of the farm raised variety. Numerous environmental warnings about Chinese-raised tilapia from such groups as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch have put this fish on their “avoid’ list of seafoods, this despite the fact that the U.S. has increased it’s imports every year from 2005 on. Many of the farm raised tilapia are grown in the notoriously polluted areas of China’s Guangdong province.

Recently, the U.S. Agriculture Dept.’s Economic Research Service raised questions about Chinese safety standards for farm-raised fish. The report mentioned, “Fish are often raised in ponds where they feed on waste runoff from poultry and livestock”. It has also been noted that Chinese farmers save money on the cost of raising these fish by dumping animal wastes into the ponds which cause algae to grow and serve as their food source. And don’t forget all of the problems with many other products made in China- toys with lead and toothpastes found to contain diethylene glycol, a poisonous chemical. Even more alarming is the usage of carbon monoxide which preserves the color of the fish and can make the fish appear fresher than it is! If you read the label of many brands (WalMart is one), the only two ingredients listed are “Tilapia” and Carbon Monoxide (To Retain Natural Color)”.

From a nutritional standpoint, tilapia fails miserably when stacked against salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and other marine sources of the omega-3 oils which have been shown to have positive effects on cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, stroke, inflammation, and brain health. Tilapia’s flesh doesn’t contain any. And the reason? If the producers used sources of omega-3 enriched meal to feed the tilapia to make them more of a viable healthy food source, the price would increase and that unfortunately is one of the reasons why this fish has become an American dietary staple. So it always comes down to the idea of how much of a price do you pay for eating unhealthy foods to save some money in the long run.

In my office we have a saying, “If you don’t take time for your HEALTH, then you will have to take time for your illness”. Educate yourself by becoming a label reader and asking the question: “Is this really good to put in my body?” and if you can’t pronounce an ingredient and the number of ingredients are many, it’s probably best to avoid.

Strive to be healthier!

Dr. Michael L. Smith specializes in functional medicine, nutrition and chiropractic healthcare

Comments (24)
24 Thursday, 16 October 2014 21:23
I had it three days ago and the next day from morning to night I was sick had headache. I had not thought about it too much I was told that as long as it said American farm raised it was ok. Not I looked today was going to fix another portion so I decided to take a closer look and it read from China and Carbon Monoxide for coloring I was thrown. I decided to look the word up and to my discovery there;
I'm just a small lil fish in a big pond. this is sick that we pay for our ignorance at the expense of our health and finance.. while it's allowed just because.. With no regard to the consumer =Take it and shut up like it or else...
23 Monday, 17 March 2014 00:52
china foods
Nothing goods from china . Special foods do not eat foods are import from china if you really want to live .
22 Tuesday, 28 January 2014 15:54
e. perrin
We all need to check the packaging. I just found two different types of fish that were products of China. They are in the garbage. Let the companies know that we will not purchase these items again.
21 Friday, 24 January 2014 07:23
John Fumnda
My son just died from eating this fish.
When they opened his stomach for a autospsy they founda full grown Chinese Chicken.
What a find!!!
20 Thursday, 09 January 2014 12:34
carol jackson
American, let's do our homework when it comes to our food. Because I truly feel like if we don't take precautions now we will see a doctor later. We are a rich country why can't we grow our own food? People do the math. Stay healthy and eat clean.
19 Sunday, 29 December 2013 16:13
Karla Chernicky
@ Darren Mills: read the whole report. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program issued a report on pond-farmed tilapia from China in June 2012 which upgraded their previous "Avoid" recommendation to a "Good Alternative," although that organization's ratings primarily focus on environmental sustainability and ecological impact rather than food safety issues. China's increased recommendation status was due mostly to a reduction in water use and the discharge of effluent by tilapia farmers — factors which are local environmental concerns — rather than enhanced food safety measures. The report noted that use of banned chemicals by Chinese tilapia farmers is an ongoing concern:
Most Chinese tilapia is farmed in ponds. Recent reductions in water use, achieved by only emptying the ponds at the time of each harvest, has also reduced discharge of effluent to the environment. Both of these factors were sufficient to raise this recommendation from its previous "Avoid" to a "Good Alternative."

Chinese farms do discharge the water without relevant treatment, however, and there is evidence that some banned chemicals — including antibiotics and fungal treatments (nitrofurans and malachite green) — are still used in Chinese tilapia production.

Overall, Chinese tilapia gets a moderate overall score of 5.34 out of ten. Tilapia as a species has the potential to be raised in sustainable ways, but the increasing intensification and industrialization has resulted in one "Red" score for the Chemical Use criterion. This means that the overall ranking is "Yellow," and therefore the recommendation is "Good Alternative."

I wouldn't consider it safe to eat if labeled from China and this doctor was correct about the Avoid status at the time the article was published. Good to do your research before you bash someone.
18 Wednesday, 17 July 2013 19:54
Lloyd P.
From Texas and I enjoy eating fish and what is on my mind is the reports that I have been reading about farm raised tilapia being raised primarily on human; checken; swin and maybe some other dung making animals. So my question is: What is our government doing about these reports. These reports have now caused me to be more aware and now have kept me from buying all fish. I do imagine that these fish may be unhealth and possibly dangerous. What is being done in this area of contamination? And what do we do to remain healthy plus tests from the medical exams?
Thank you for allowing me to voice my concern.
Lloyd P.
17 Sunday, 14 July 2013 20:13
As you can see here, while US, Canadian, and South American Tilapia are called the best choice, Chinese farmed Tilapia are rated a "good alternative" NOT "AVOID" :
16 Saturday, 13 July 2013 10:25
Pat Russo
In a country as rich and prosperous as America, why do we allow even questionably dangerous food items into this country? We have the capabilities of producing our own food. I read that even Russia bans certain fish items from China that we readily allow into our country.

Could someone Please explain why.
15 Monday, 08 July 2013 23:05
I love fish n I'm glad da only fish I eat is tuna fish.
14 Sunday, 30 June 2013 08:22
Marvin Jonson
How about this...lets try to support America's commercial fishermen. Go to your seafood market and ask them for wild caught tilapia from central and south Florida. It's what I do for a living and would help me and my family greatly.

Thank you
13 Friday, 28 June 2013 10:06
Kathy Rivera
One evening I prepared a breaded tilapia from the frozen food section of Walmart. Within one to two hours after eating it, I began experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis; throat began closing up. Then, my lips began swelling, and swelling and swelling up. I retrieved the wrapper from the tilapia and read that it came from China. Went to the urgent care and by the time I got there, I looked like Daisy Duck - my lips were that big!!! Very, very scary. Be forewarned. No other explanation for the reaction, was definitely the tilapia!
12 Thursday, 30 May 2013 17:53
James E
I have in front of me Talapia from Panamei Seafood. Next to the bar code there's a Plant number. I plugged it in google and found the plant is BANNED from sending it's supplies to Russia. What an eye opener this has been for me and I'm glad I took the time to search this information. Also, on a side note, stay away from soy!
11 Sunday, 21 April 2013 17:53
but you never answer the question about the FDA. Shouldn't it be approved by them to be sold at supermarkets? and as somebody else mentioned, where are the data for pollutants in this fish?
10 Wednesday, 27 March 2013 21:51
Diane Purifoy
Let's take our focus off of the Tilapia and put it on the carbon monoxide. How healthy is our eating of anything with Carbon Monoxide in it or on it?
9 Thursday, 21 February 2013 16:15
Horrible article. The author (A doctor) is a Chiropractor. I didn't realize chiropractic studies included study in foreign fish farming quality controls. Not a single piece of data is provided. Where is the data that says the fish has this level of pollutant, or lead, or pesticide, etc? It is an anecdotal "story" with the false premise that tilapia from China must be bad because some other things that came from China were bad. It is the worst logic crutch and is being used blatantly in this article. I would suggest getting your "facts" from another source or three before drawing conclusions about your food sources.
8 Saturday, 09 February 2013 21:28
Bev A Anderson
Great American Seafood Imports Co.-This label is sold at Albertson's grocery.
Frozen imported tilapia from China, farm raised, under this package label.
The label reads "tilapia and carbon dioxide".
7 Sunday, 23 December 2012 22:43
scarborough pete
wife and I just had a home cooked meal of tilapia and within 5 minutes we both got sick. I checked the packaging and found that it was imported from China and then sold by a company with a web page called I went to the site and the only mention of tilapia had to do with promotional stuff and no mention of it being farmed, but being from China it is no doubt farmed. I happened to find this site and after reading this I will never buy or eat any kind of farmed fish ever. I sent email to the company asking for more info but I don't expect to hear much from them.
6 Sunday, 18 November 2012 18:04
Julian Caribe
It s possible to know if products like (fjord seafood - oreochromis niloticus) from this company in china have certification, such as BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) are dangerous. for my family ?

I bought this a pricemart.
and i will apreciate your response.
5 Wednesday, 14 November 2012 08:22
Very nice and informative blog posting. Among all the fish, tilapia fish is Awesome! Farming this fish is very profitable and easy. I like this fish very much for it's unique taste and value.
4 Monday, 27 February 2012 20:03
Mia M.
Sounds fishy! But yeah, I'm not really sure if we've got to stay away from eating Tilapia. I mean the fish is a good source of protein, I'm sure fish farms in China are all groomed well.

There are lots of meat where we can get protein. And one of them is chicken meat. If you plan to get yourself pumped, I suggest you eat chicken meat if you're afraid of Tilapia. And to get yourself more pumped up, don't your physical training.
3 Friday, 13 January 2012 18:21
Ernie Lusk
Im glad I hate fish and most all seafoods yuk......
2 Thursday, 08 December 2011 16:56
Darren Mills
The seafood industry is a global industry and China is the world leader in Tilapia production. As a result, it is imperative for consumers to do their due diligence when searching for safe and high quality product coming from overseas. For example, look for certification labels on packages, such as BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) to name a few. These labels along with a customer service line you can call, where a company representative addresses all questions is a good indicator you are purchasing from a reputable company. The good doctor fails to report, that of all the major recalls in the last 10 years NONE have been seafood related and that includes fish from China.Think about all of the reporting on recalls you’ve heard concerning beef, peanuts and vegetables (most recently cantaloupe) in just the last few years, most from right here in America. Seafood’s track record leads the way in terms of food safety, the numbers clearly show that people are NOT getting sick from imported seafood. So, you have to ask yourself, do most of the negative reports from the media have a political agenda advocated by certain lobbyist aspiring to gain a larger market share of the industry? I don't know? but it sure sounds "fishy" to me!
1 Thursday, 08 December 2011 10:57
Mike Picchietti
Tilapia is like any other farm raised product, the quality depends how you raise it. Not all tilapia is created equal, while farm raised tilapia from China may take short cuts like other things they produce. There is excellent farm raised tilapia from Indonesia, Honduras and Mexico in the market that is of highest quality. Tilapia does have Omega 3's in fact it has a full days requirments. Costco has the best quality tilapia and its not from China. Tilapia is "a miracle fish" since it doesn't require fish in its diet (it can eat plants) and its going to feed the world. Don't discount this fish it will be (and is) an essential protein source for a hungry planet.

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