Canada’s CBC Set To Air Exposé On Shrimp, Antimicrobial Resistance
On Friday, March 15, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) is set to air an exposé on its popular consumer-watchdog program, Marketplace, on shrimp and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) titled “Testing Shrimp for Superbugs.” Due to the nature of the segment and its conversations with the CBC, the Global Aquaculture Alliance is concerned that the TV network will insinuate to its roughly 1 million viewers across Canada that imported, farmed shrimp is a food-safety concern when there is no indication that it is unsafe.
The segment stems from an investigation that CBC conducted in January and February, randomly pulling imported, farmed shrimp products from Canadian grocery stores in Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto and Montreal and testing the samples at a University of Saskatchewan laboratory for both pathogens and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In an interview with the program’s producer, Robert Osborne, and an investigative reporter, Luke Denne, GAA President Dr. George Chamberlain and members of the organization’s program integrity team talked at length about the importance of combatting AMR in all foods, as it’s a human-health issue regarding the long-term effectiveness of life-saving antibiotics. However, Chamberlain emphasized that it would be misleading to present this as a food-safety issue, because there is no indication that imported, farmed shrimp is unsafe. He went on to explain how GAA’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) third-party certification program address antibiotic use at the farm level and the testing of antibiotic residues at the processing level.
Update: GAA is disappointed by CBC and its sensationalized, lazy approach to journalism in its “Superbugs” segment. It is misleading and damaging to single out imported, farmed shrimp as the culprit of a human-health issue that goes well beyond the scope of any one industry.
Additionally, through an independent analysis of the testing methodology that CBC relied upon, GAA has learned that the presence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria on these shrimp products “cannot be definitively linked to the misuse of antimicrobials on the farms of origin.” The analysis found that:
1. The presence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria is naturally occurring. What is important is the prevalence and the trends over time. The sample size was too small to determine prevalence. Long-term trends also need to be compared to antibiotic-use data in both humans and animals. This is not possible with the results presented by CBC.
2. The spread of resistant clones is never monodirectional, and it occurs between different compartments as they overlap. Therefore, it is not scientifically accurate to say that the presence of AMR bacteria is linked back solely to farming practices.
3. Resistant bacteria can be passed along the chain by contact with processed or live animals, or by consumption. A risk assessment should be carried out to understand the risk to the consumer. Upon cooking or freezing the product, the risk of bacterial contamination greatly declines.
For frequently asked questions on AMR and other resources, visit the GAA Member Toolkit.