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5 Things to Consider When Ordering Seafood

Food

Ever think about where your seafood comes from? You might be surprised to learn that much of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported—frequently from places where health, safety and environmental standards are weak or non-existent. And less than 2 percent of seafood imports to the U.S. are inspected for contamination.

Sadly, many popular wild fish populations have been managed poorly and are depleted, are caught using gear that can hurt their habitat and other wildlife, or could contain substances like mercury or PCBs that can cause serious health problems.

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Fortunately, there are still good domestic seafood options.

Food & Water Watch has analyzed more than 100 fish and shellfish to create the Smart Seafood Guide, the only guide that assesses the human health and environmental impacts of eating certain seafood, as well as the socio-economic impacts on coastal and fishing communities. The guide can help you make healthier and more eco-friendly choices.

Here's an excerpt from the guide of five things to consider the next time you are considering buying seafood at the grocery store or ordering it in a restaurant.

1. Local fish are few and far between. While diners at coastal restaurants often look forward to ordering seafood, much of the fish at restaurants and in stores is not local. Because of high demand, seafood on these menus often comes from other states or countries, so always remember to ask rather than assume that seafood is local and sustainable.

2. Atlantic salmon is farmed salmon. While Alaskan wild-caught salmon can be a healthy, sustainable option, farmed salmon is associated with environmental and social problems. One red-flag is salmon labeled Atlantic. As wild Atlantic salmon populations have been driven close to extinction, salmon from this ocean are almost surely farmed.

3. Seafood labeled organic is not what it seems: There are no legal organic standards for seafood in the U.S., so fish labeled organic are imported, usually from northern Europe. And seafood labeled organic is farmed, not wild-caught.

4. Beware of imported shrimp: Although the U.S. has many healthy shrimp fisheries that support coastal communities, about 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported. Much of it comes from farms that are associated with heavy chemical use, environmental destruction and negative impacts for local communities.

5. Bivalve shellfish are often good options: In some cases, bivalve shellfish, like mussels, oysters and clams, are the most likely seafood items at restaurants or markets to be sustainably sourced. These fish are filter feeders, which means that even when farmed they can help to improve local environments by cleaning up water. Just remember to ask about local contaminant warnings, and in the case of clams, whether they are hand-raked or dredged.

For more information and many more detailed recommendations on specific kinds of seafood to buy, see the Smart Seafood Guide.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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