Whitefish wars: Pangasius, politics and consumer confusion in Europe.

Over the past few years, pangasius production has experienced rapid growth and in the European Union. The increased imports however have been accompanied by criticisms of the fish’s environmental and social credentials. To assess the validity of these criticisms researchers working on the SEAT project reviewed peer reviewed scientific evidence on pangasius production and analysis of the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feeds food safety notification system for imported seafood. This review was published in the journal Marine PolicyWhitefish wars: Pangasius, politics and consumer confusion in Europe.

Article outline

The growth of pangasius production has been rapid and over the last five years it has become increasingly ubiquitous in European markets. This rise has been met with prominent criticisms about the production methods and safety of this seafood product. There have been accusations of cheap and exploited labour, unhygienic farming conditions and overuse of chemicals.

In reviewing the scientific evidence and the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feeds food safety notification system for imported seafood. It has been seen that the industry is actually relatively environmentally benign and beneficial for actors along the (increasingly) international value chain. Even former critics such as Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson have conceded that:

“Far from finding a dirty, unhygienic and polluted business, Vietnamese pangasius is a new industry, meeting world-class welfare and hygiene standards and producing a quality product under first-rate conditions. It also provides secure jobs, social security benefits and pension provisions for millions of desperately poor people in the Mekong Delta.”

It is argued that the debate on the environmental, social and safety credentials of pangasius production has become increasingly politicised as it is a strong competitor to the European fish market and perceived as a cause for concern among European fishermen. However these debates are potentially counterproductive for EU food security and the European aquaculture. As a fast growing, omnivorous species which requires very little fishmeal and oil, pangasius can contribute to sustainable seafood consumption in a number of ways.

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Little, D. C. Bush, S. R. Belton, B. Phuong, N. T. Young, J. A. & Murray, F. J. (2012) Whitefish wars: Pangasius, politics and consumer confusion in Europe. Marine Policy 36: 738-745

Photo © Loni Hensler