OAKLAND, Calif., October 23, 2014 – What is the real cost of the shrimp we consume? What kinds of social and environmental relations are concealed in those bags brimming with frozen prawns available in supermarkets? A new Backgrounder published by Food First/Institute for Food and Development addresses these timely and pressing questions.

Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing food production system, accounting for about half of all seafood consumed worldwide. Shrimp remains a major growth sector of the so-called “blue revolution”: the massive expansion of aquaculture development, particularly in coastal areas of developing countries. Unlike the “green revolution”—which promised increased agricultural productivity using new seed varieties and chemicals—the blue revolution is focused on developing export markets for farm-raised fish from places like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Honduras to supermarkets in Europe, Japan, and the United States.

This expansion of shrimp aquaculture has long been recognized as an ecological disaster, fueling the destruction of mangrove forests, the loss of biodiversity, and rampant pollution from shrimp pond effluent. Additionally, consumers have become increasingly concerned with the presence of antibiotics in the imported shrimp on the supermarket shelves. A June 2014 exposé in The Guardian also drew attention to human trafficking and the use of slave labor in the Thai shrimp industry and exposed the complicity of major retailers in the US and Europe, including Walmart, Costco, and Tesco.

Authored by experts Kasia Paprocki and Jason Kons, this Backgrounder ("Brackish Waters and Salted Lands") focuses on the shrimp economy’s impact on land. In Bangladesh, the report argues, shrimp has been responsible for pushing people off the land and turning vast areas into salty swamps inhospitable to agriculture. Certification schemes that focus on food safety and labor may be positive developments, but they are insufficient for addressing the issue of shrimp “land grabbing” and in places like Bangladesh.

This Food First Backgrounder can be downloaded for free by visiting: