Who's Really Paying for Cheap Shrimp?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 10:03 PM EST

20051115135555.jpg Not you and me. That farmed tiger shrimp costs five times what we're paying. So who's getting charged the difference? Local poor people and the local environment. This according to Daniel A. Bergquist of Uppsala University. Despite what many international aid organizations claim (and fund), Bergquist says his studies in Sri Lanka and the Philippines prove that a major portion of the local population is excluded from aquaculture and continue to be as poor as ever. "The winners are the local elites," he says. What's more, aquaculture often entails cutting mangrove forests for shrimp and fish ponds, creating environmental problems that eventually impact aquaculture.

By using methods that factor in all costs, Bergquist was able to show, for instance, that the price of tiger shrimp would need to be more than five times higher than it is today for the environment and the local population to receive fair compensation for their input. "Aquaculture is a clear example of how the colonization of the southern hemisphere is still going on, finding new avenues via globalization and international trade," says Bergquist.

So maybe the good folks at Blue Ocean Institute will add tiger shrimp to their excellent sustainable seafood texting service, and keep a few more of us from eating it until the price gets real.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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