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July 7, 2014

Once an expensive delicacy, shrimp have dropped sharply in price in recent years as South East Asian countries have developed shrimp farms and created a huge industry aimed at both their domestic markets as well as those in Western Europe and North America. Yet, as tasty as those shrimp are, there are three reasons why you should stay clear of eating shrimp and supporting this industry.

First is the overuse of antibiotics and chemicals in the production of shrimp. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which inspects a maximum of five per cent of imported foods, has rejected shrimp shipments from South East Asia because of the presence of antibiotics used in treating a wide range of infections, including chlamydia and anthrax.

Second, there is the destruction of mangrove forests in order to create shrimp farms. Shrimp-producing countries have wiped out anywhere from five to 80 per cent of their mangrove forests in order to expand their shrimp industries. Mangrove forests absorb and trap more carbon dioxide than any other ecosystem of the planet thus serving as a valuable preventer of global warming.

Third, human slavery is widespread, especially in the shrimp industry of Thailand. The U.S. State Department last month knocked Thailand down to the lowest level of countries in the fight against human trafficking primarily because of the use of slavery in its fishing industry.

An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian, also last month, pointed to the reason for inexpensive shrimp: "It has been possible to turn them into an item of mass consumption because, at the end of the chain, there are people working for nothing or next to nothing."

Although slavery is illegal in Thailand, it flourishes because of corruption among police and local politicians. "Distance has made it possible to turn a blind eye," writes Felicity Lawrence of The Guardian. "Globalization has hidden the brutal realities of slavery through chains of outsourcing, subcontracting, and 'commercially confidential' lists of suppliers to supermarket suppliers."

North American supermarkets and consumers don't object to their shrimp coming via modern-day slavery because they don't know. They don't know because it is difficult to trace the tracks of this nefarious practice.

However, Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, is clear about the connection: "If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labour."

The next time you see shrimp offered up on a plate of hors d'oeuvres or as part of a well laid-out dinner plate at a banquet, you have an alternative. Just say "no" and explain why.