How Are Shrimp Killed For Food? A Simple Guide

Shrimp is a popular seafood delicacy enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. However, have you ever wondered how these tiny crustaceans are killed for food?

The process of harvesting and slaughtering shrimp has been a topic of debate among scientists, policymakers, and animal welfare organizations. While some governments have passed regulations to protect the welfare of crustaceans during harvesting, others continue to use inhumane methods that cause immense pain and suffering.

In this article, we will explore the different ways in which shrimp are killed for food and the ethical concerns surrounding these practices. Join us as we dive deep into the world of shrimp farming and discover the truth behind this beloved seafood.

How Are Shrimp Killed For Food?

Shrimp are typically killed through two main methods: asphyxiation and freezing. In the case of asphyxiation, the shrimp are placed in a container or tank and deprived of oxygen until they suffocate. This process can take several hours and is considered to be extremely painful and stressful for the animals.

The second method, freezing, involves placing the shrimp in a freezer until they die from hypothermia. While this method is quicker than asphyxiation, it is still considered to be inhumane and causes significant suffering to the animals.

In addition to these methods, some shrimp are killed without being stunned first. This means that they are conscious and aware while being slaughtered, which is a clear violation of animal welfare standards.

The Traditional Method: Boiling Shrimp Alive

One traditional method for cooking shrimp involves boiling them alive. This method is often used in Asian cuisine, particularly in Cantonese cuisine. The process involves boiling live shrimp in a pot of boiling water until they turn pink and are cooked through.

While this method is considered to be quick and effective, it is also highly controversial from an ethical standpoint. Many animal rights advocates argue that boiling shrimp alive is cruel and inhumane, as it causes the animals significant pain and suffering.

Furthermore, boiling shrimp alive can also result in a less flavorful dish. When shrimp are killed before cooking, enzymes in their bodies break down the proteins and create a more tender and flavorful texture. Boiling live shrimp can result in a tougher and less tasty dish.

Despite these concerns, boiling shrimp alive remains a common practice in some parts of the world. However, many chefs and home cooks are beginning to explore alternative methods for cooking shrimp that prioritize animal welfare and flavor.

The Use Of Chemicals In Shrimp Farming

The use of chemicals in shrimp farming has become a common practice in the aquaculture industry. Farmers often use antibiotics such as tetracyclines and quinolones to prevent and treat disease infestations in their shrimp. However, when infestations become severe, farmers resort to more powerful antibiotics like phenicols and nitrofurans.

In addition to antibiotics, aquaculturists have also adopted chemicals used in the agriculture sector to control pests, algae, unwanted vegetation, and enhance growth and production. While these chemicals can be effective when properly applied, their improper use and runoff from agriculture can negatively impact water and sediment quality, alter microbial communities and biodiversity, kill non-target animals and plants, and affect the health of farm workers.

Environmental concerns often focus on the presence of persistent pesticides with long half-lives in sediments, the effects of biocidal properties on aquatic life, and the accumulation of hazardous pesticides in body tissues, which presents food safety problems. The toxicity of any chemical in aquaculture is difficult to predict since it is influenced by various factors like water quality, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, alkalinity, turbidity, and animal health.

Some of the commonly used chemicals in shrimp farming include Addoxy, Aqualite, Clinzex-DS, Earth, Halonex, Odoban-A30 among others. It is important for farmers to use these chemicals responsibly and follow proper guidelines to minimize their negative impact on the environment and ensure the safety of the shrimp for human consumption.

The Humane Slaughter Method: Ikejime

One humane method of killing shrimp for food is through the use of Ikejime. This traditional Japanese technique involves instantly euthanizing the shrimp by inserting a spike into its brain cavity. The spike is inserted in a precise location that causes immediate brain death, resulting in the shrimp being completely immobilized and unable to feel any pain.

Once the shrimp is spiked, its spinal cord is destroyed to prevent any further muscle movement. This ensures that the shrimp does not suffer and that its meat quality is preserved. Destroying the spinal cord also prevents reflex actions from happening, which would otherwise consume adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the muscle, and as a result produce lactic acid and ammonia, making the shrimp sour, soggy and less tasteful.

Ikejime is considered to be one of the fastest and most humane methods of killing shrimp for food. It also helps to preserve the flavor and texture of the shrimp, making it more enjoyable for consumers. Furthermore, this method prolongs the shelf life of the shrimp by retracting the blood contained in its flesh to the gut cavity, resulting in a better-colored and flavored fillet.

The Debate On Crustacean Welfare And Regulations

The issue of crustacean welfare and regulations has been a topic of debate for many years. Despite growing evidence that crustaceans like crabs and lobsters are sentient and can feel pain, they are not included in animal welfare laws in many countries, including the UK. This means that they receive no legal protection from inhumane capture, handling, storage, transport, or slaughter.

Current methods of killing decapod crustaceans, such as boiling them alive or freezing them to death, are considered to be extremely painful and stressful for the animals. As a result, there is a growing demand for more humane methods of killing these animals.

Countries like New Zealand and Norway have taken a common-sense approach to prevent unnecessary suffering by implementing humane methods that are relatively straightforward to implement. However, until decapod crustaceans are included under the definition of ‘animal’ in welfare legislation, the UK government is not obliged to draw up guidelines for their humane treatment.

The farming of decapod crustaceans is a key economic driver in many countries, with production reaching around 9.4 million tonnes in 2018. However, despite the wide knowledge on crustacean stress physiology and immunology as well as disease control, still little is known about some key parameters related to the five welfare dimensions.

While electrical stunning appears to be the most promising way to humanely stun and kill shrimps, more research is needed to determine whether any shrimps retain consciousness during the electrical stun, or subsequently regain consciousness prior to slaughter.

The Future Of Shrimp Farming And Sustainable Practices

Shrimp farming is a rapidly growing industry, with global production more than tripling since 2000. However, the sector is largely characterized by unsustainable practices that can result in negative impacts, such as natural habitat conversion, water pollution, and over-exploitation of marine fisheries for fish meal. To address these issues, the Sustainable Shrimp Partnership (SSP) was created to promote responsible practices in the shrimp farming industry.

The SSP is committed to producing shrimp with sustainable practices, including zero antibiotic use, neutral water impact, and full traceability. The group believes that a race to the top is necessary for the industry to thrive, rather than a race to the bottom based on low prices that can result in lower quality products and greater use of antibiotics due to higher disease risk.

Intensive production systems have been identified as a solution to making shrimp farming more sustainable. These systems produce higher amounts of shrimp per land area by using more precise methods, and with responsible practices can reduce impact to local water quality and disease risk by minimizing farm interaction with the external environment. However, smallholder producers who dominate the industry often lack access to formal credit necessary to adopt more intensive production methods.

WWF is also working to improve aquaculture practices through tech innovations like forensic analysis of farmed products and traceability software. This is crucial as new regulations require importers to track shrimp from the point of harvest to the point of entry. Digital technologies are disrupting the market and driving the shift toward traceability, closed-loop systems, and indoor farming.