Is Tuna From Thailand Safe? Experts Explain

Tuna is a popular and nutritious food that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. However, recent reports have raised concerns about the safety and sustainability of tuna from Thailand.

With allegations of illegal fishing practices, human trafficking, and even food poisoning, it’s important to know whether the canned tuna on your shelf is safe to eat.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the issues surrounding tuna from Thailand and explore whether it’s a safe and ethical choice for consumers.

So grab a can of tuna and let’s dive in!

Is Tuna From Thailand Safe?

The short answer is yes, canned tuna from Thailand is safe to eat. The country has a long history of fishing and seafood production, and its canned tuna products are among the most popular in the world. Thai canned tuna is produced under strict quality control standards, and the country’s seafood export industry is highly regulated.

However, there are concerns about the sustainability and ethical practices of the Thai fishing industry. A recent report from Greenpeace found that out of 23 tuna canneries in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, only five meet the organization’s standards for sustainability and safe labor practices. This is a worrying statistic, as Thailand is one of the world’s largest exporters of fish in the world market.

One of the main issues with Thai tuna is illegal fishing practices. A 2014 report found that half of fish products exported to the US were sourced through illegal means, with Thailand being one of the main culprits. The yellow card sanction that European Union issued to Thailand in 2015 for failing to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing still stands today.

Another issue is human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry. Migrant workers from Myanmar and Cambodia are often employed in processing plants and on fishing vessels, where they are subjected to poor working conditions and low wages. This is a serious human rights issue that needs to be addressed by the Thai government and fishing industry.

Lastly, there have been reports of food poisoning linked to imported tuna from Thailand. While canned tuna itself is not typically associated with food poisoning, there have been cases where scombroid fish poisoning has occurred due to improper preservation of the fish.

The Importance Of Sustainable Tuna Fishing Practices

Sustainable tuna fishing practices are crucial for the long-term health of tuna populations and the ocean ecosystem. Overfishing and illegal fishing practices have led to a decline in tuna populations, with some species being classified as threatened or at risk of extinction. Climate change is also affecting tuna populations, as warming oceans with low oxygen levels threaten their survival.

To address these issues, it is important for the tuna industry to adopt sustainable fishing methods that minimize the environmental impact and reduce bycatch. This includes using low environmental impact fishing systems and choosing different types of species, such as skipjack tuna, which are less at risk than more famous species like bluefin and yellowfin.

Certification can help consumers recognize products that are heading in the right direction, but it is up to companies to make a commitment to sustainability and clearly communicate their sustainability criteria. The Thai Union’s Tuna Commitment up to 2025 is an example of a company taking responsibility for ensuring that tuna stocks are healthy for generations to come.

However, sustainable fishing practices alone are not enough. The issue of human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry must also be addressed. Migrant workers must be treated fairly and given safe working conditions and fair wages. Consumers can also do their part by ensuring the tuna they buy is sustainably sourced and supporting companies that prioritize sustainability and ethical practices.

The Dark Side Of Thailand’s Tuna Industry: Illegal Fishing And Human Trafficking

The Thai fishing industry is plagued by illegal fishing practices and human trafficking. Thailand is the world’s top exporter of tuna and one of the biggest exporters of all fish. Its marine fishing industry is particularly prone to modern slavery due to its size, lack of regulation, extent of illegal operations, and exploitation of migrant workers.

Investigations by groups including Greenpeace and the International Labour Organisation suggest that the majority of those working on boats meet the definition of modern slavery. Workers are often tricked or trafficked to work in locations far from home with promises of well-paid jobs, but find it is a different story once they arrive. Migrant workers are not entitled to the same protections as Thai workers and are generally paid about 25% less than the Thai minimum wage. They are unable to join unions as Thai workers are, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The problem of human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry is not limited to poor working conditions and low wages. A growing number of independent reports over the past decade have documented abuses of workers tracked onto Thai fishing vessels, including bonded, forced and slave labor and the use of extreme violence. One report by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) found that 59% of trafficked migrants interviewed aboard Thai fishing vessels reported witnessing the murder of a fellow worker.

Illegal fishing practices are also a major concern in the Thai tuna industry. A 2014 report found that half of fish products exported to the US were sourced through illegal means, with Thailand being one of the main culprits. The yellow card sanction that European Union issued to Thailand in 2015 for failing to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing still stands today. The lack of regulation in the industry allows for “rogue fleets” to operate outside the law through illegal fishing operations, and safety and labor standards are poorly enforced.

Food Safety Concerns: Mercury Levels In Thai Tuna

Another food safety concern related to Thai tuna is the level of mercury found in certain types of canned tuna. Consumer Reports conducted a study on five popular canned tuna brands and found unpredictable spikes in mercury levels in individual cans, with some cans containing significantly higher levels than others. The study also found that albacore tuna had higher levels of mercury compared to light and skipjack tuna.

While the National Fisheries Institute claims that the mercury levels found in the study were much lower than the FDA limit and therefore safe to eat, there are still concerns about the potential risks of consuming high levels of mercury during pregnancy. The FDA warns that fetuses, infants, and young children are more vulnerable to the negative effects of mercury due to their small bodies, metabolism, and rapid growth.

Therefore, it is important for pregnant women and parents of young children to pay attention to the type and amount of canned tuna they consume. The EPA recommends limiting consumption of canned white tuna (which is exclusively albacore) to one 3-ounce portion per month for children under six, two 4.5-ounce portions per month for children between 6-12 years old, and up to three times a month (6-ounce portions for women and 8-ounce portions for men) for adults. Canned light tuna is considered a safer choice with lower levels of mercury and can be consumed up to three 3-ounce portions per month for children under six, and once a week for older children and adults.

Ethical Considerations: Supporting Fair Trade And Responsible Tuna Sourcing

For those who are concerned about the ethical and sustainability issues surrounding Thai canned tuna, there are options available that support fair trade and responsible sourcing practices. One such option is Mind Fish Co., a company that has recently launched the first Fair Trade Certified canned tuna product in the North American market.

Mind Fish Co. partners with Fair Trade USA to support a program designed to restore healthy marine ecosystems, improve livelihoods, and build resilient coastal communities in the Maldives through their line of Pole and Line Caught Skipjack Tuna products. All of Mind Fish’s Skipjack Tuna are 100% pole and line caught by day boats and packed in the Maldives, ensuring sustainability, traceability, and full transparency of their supply chain.

Illegal fishing and human rights violations are widely-documented in the canned tuna industry, so the introduction of Fair Trade Certified tuna to the US Market is exciting news in the movement for sustainable and ethical seafood. Mind Fish’s environmentally and socially responsible seafood lineup includes Fair Trade Certified Skipjack Tuna, which supports fair wages and safe working conditions for the fishers and cannery workers in the Maldives.

By choosing to support fair trade and responsible tuna sourcing practices, consumers can help to promote sustainable fishing practices, protect workers’ rights, and ensure that they are making informed choices about the food they eat. It is important for consumers to ask questions about where their food comes from and to support companies that prioritize sustainability, ethical labor practices, and transparency in their supply chains.

Alternatives To Thai Tuna: Exploring Other Safe And Sustainable Tuna Options

If you’re concerned about the sustainability and ethical practices of the Thai fishing industry, there are other safe and sustainable tuna options available. One such option is Wild Planet Foods, a brand that is dedicated to providing sustainable tuna products. Their Wild Planet and Sustainable Seas brands are found in many stores across the US and its market presence is growing with increased demand for responsibly-caught tuna.

Wild Planet has a strong, fully implemented sustainable sourcing policy and provides information on its website to educate consumers about its products. All Wild Planet products are pole and line or troll caught, two fishing methods with minimal impacts on other marine life. This means that the rate of bycatch is small because fishers can catch and release non-tuna species. Additionally, Wild Planet supports protecting our oceans and has vowed not to source tuna from the proposed high seas ocean sanctuaries of the Western and Central Pacific.

Another sustainable tuna option is pole-and-line caught tuna. This traditional fishing method uses a pole, line, and hook to catch fish, with minimal impact on other marine life. While it is labor-intensive and dependent on bait fish, it is a more sustainable option compared to other fishing methods. Look for brands that use pole-and-line caught tuna, such as American Tuna or Ocean Naturals.

Lastly, if you’re concerned about the impact of FADs, look for purse seine fisheries that set on free-swimming schools of tuna. This method does not use FADs, which attract bycatch and juvenile tuna and are poorly regulated.