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Consumer Reports Finds 60% of Raw Shrimp Tested Positive for Bacteria

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Consumer Reports Finds 60% of Raw Shrimp Tested Positive for Bacteria

There are now more reasons to consider skipping your next shrimp cocktail. In a startling new Consumer Reports study, bacteria was detected in more than half the raw shrimp that was tested, with some also tainted with illegal antibiotic residues.

For the study, How Safe is Your Shrimp?, scientists analyzed 342 packages of frozen shrimp—284 raw and 58 cooked samples—purchased at Albertsons, Costco, Fry’s Marketplace, Hy-Vee, Kroger, Sprouts Farmers Market and Walmart in 27 cities across the U.S.

The study found that 60 percent of raw shrimp tested positive for bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli and listeria. In seven raw shrimp samples, scientists detected the antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, that could potentially lead to a dangerous infection.

America's demand for our favorite crustacean is causing a sea of trouble here and abroad.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The country currently consumes about three times more shrimp than it did 35 years ago, with the average American chomping down nearly 4 pounds of shrimp per year. While the crustacean is clearly America's favorite seafood, most of the country's supply comes from faraway countries such as India, Indonesia and Thailand, where shrimp is squeezed into industrial tanks or shallow, man-made ponds where they're fed commercial pellets, sometimes containing antibiotics to ward off disease, the study pointed out.

“Bacteria and algae can begin to grow and disease can set in, prompting farmers to use drugs and other chemicals that can remain on the shrimp and seep into the surrounding environment,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, in the report.

Not only is there the possibility of bacteria and viral infections swarming in these Asian shrimp farms, a recent investigation from the Associated Press revealed participation of forced labor from Burmese migrants in Thailand’s shrimp processing chain.

The graph shows 284 samples of raw shrimp purchased at stores around the country. The last column shows the percentage of samples that contained at least one of the following bacteria: vibrio, staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, listeria or salmonella. Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports is calling on the federal government to make shrimp safer to consume. The organization pointed out that it's the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) job "to inspect shrimp coming into the U.S. to make sure it doesn’t contain any drugs or chemicals that aren’t permitted in imported shrimp."

"It is the FDA, not local retailers, that is charged with enforcing the law that prohibits importing shrimp containing antibiotics," Consumer Reports said. "According to the FDA, if those drugs had been detected in even one shrimp sample, the entire shipment would have been refused entry into the U.S."

So for your next trip to the grocery store, Consumer Reports recommends buying farmed shrimp raised without chemicals, including antibiotics. Seek out varieties that come from large outdoor ponds that mimic their natural habitat or in tanks that constantly filter and recycle water and waste, the report said.

Consumer Reports also suggests looking for shrimp carrying the Marine Stewardship Council logo or checking seafoodwatch.org and look for shrimp listed as a "Best Choice" or "Good Alternative." The organization also suggests following their safe-prep rules.

You also want to be wary about anything labeled "organic," as "organic" seafood sold in the country is not approved by the U.S. government. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to propose standards for organic seafood raised in the country this year).

“Even though most bacteria on shrimp would be killed during the cooking process, our test results raise real questions about how shrimp is raised, processed, and regulated,” Rangan said.

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The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

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With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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