Share it

Made in China: Why You Shouldn’t Eat Tilapia

by Nikolai Nikitenko March 15, 2016 5 Comments

Made in China: Why You Shouldn’t Eat Tilapia

There is a major rise in the United States in the popularity of cheap seafood from abroad. While there is nothing wrong with some smoked SALMON produced in Norway, other types of fish that enter the country are not as healthy as people believe them to be. One of the biggest growing sales of fish in the US belongs to fish like tilapia, basa and swai. With cheap price tags this fish seems like a great deal, but there may be more to it.

The first issue with these fish is how they are produced. Tilapia, basa and swai are all fresh water fish. Tilapia variants can be found in fresh water bodies throughout the world. Basa and swai on the other hand are found in the Mekong River in Vietnam. All of these fish variants have very small wild caught industries, but they are used primarily for local markets at their point of origin. The majority of exported fish of these variants comes from commercial farming in South East Asia, primarily from nations like China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
All of these fish are mass-produced in crowded aquaculture tanks and are fed soy-based foods, if they are lucky. Being bottom feeders and filter feeders these fish will consume any waste or contaminants that enter the water, and I mean anything. I am going to let your imagination take over for that one. In order to keep the fish alive until harvest they are continuously fed antibiotics in order to thwart off disease that can kill the entire stock. Sure there is organic production of tilapia in the US, but it consists of less than 1% of all tilapia sold in the US. It is also nearly impossible to recognize US produced tilapia unless properly labeled as such.

There is one bright side to its production though. In order to pass FDA inspection for US import, all processing plants that eventually fillet and package the fish must be near spotless. I have seen how some of their production facilities and how their sanitization protocols are treated and I have been impressed. Not only do they follow every regulation to the letter, but also they take action to sanitize their facility above & beyond the FDA demands. Let’s be honest though; after being fed antibiotics all its life, the cleanliness of the processing facilities only helps to keep the situation from being any worse and does not improve on everything that these fish lack.

Health wise, seafood can be some of the best things to add to your diet. It is a well-known fact that by eating salmon at least 2 times a week you can reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. Yet even with that information, there are serious outliers. Let us start with tilapia. Tilapia is pretty much the complete opposite of salmon or sablefish when it comes to your health. Tilapia is loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which firstly we already eat too much of in our society. Omega-6 in excess can cause and exacerbate inflammation so much that it makes bacon look heart healthy. Inflammation can lead to heart disease and can exacerbate symptoms for people who suffer from asthma and arthritis.

Swai and basa on the other hand have their own set of problems. Often called pangasius, are actually iridescent sharks. They are commonly found in smaller sizes sold as aquarium fish at pet stores, but that does not cover all of the issues. First of all, nearly all of these fish are produced on the Mekong River in aquaculture facilities. The Mekong River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, and there is no regulation to filter the water used in these facilities. This can cause heightened levels of heavy metals and toxins from the polluted water.
Both fish are not fed anything close to their natural food. They are fed food pellets made from fish remains (often swai and basa remains) mixed with soy and antibiotics. They are also treated without regulation with growth hormones to make them profitable much faster. These fish are also linked to many cases of food poisoning due to contamination from their point of origin. There is no production of such fish in the US or outside South East Asia.

For many it can be very tempting to buy fish when it costs $2 per Lbs. at the supermarket, especially when money is tight. But do not forget, that by eating these species of fish, you are often damaging your health. Saving a couple dollars today may cost you thousands in medical bills tomorrow. We usually do not make direct recommendations and usually ask that you make your own judgments. We highly recommend that you do not eat these fish. It says allot when we would eat a big mac before touching tilapia, swai or basa. Think of your health before your wallet the next time you are at the store or are eating out. Do not eat tilapia, swai or basa!

Since we originally posted this article we have had many questions from who are now ex-Tilapia, Basa and Swai consumers, who wanted to know what we would suggest as an alternative to Tilapia, Basa and Swai. In reality it is not such an easy question to answer, since everyone has their own preference in what they see in seafood. In this addition to the main article we will be discussing a few types of fish that would be a healthy alternative to tilapia, Basa and Swai.

All of the fish named below will only be found wild. One thing you should take note of is some pre-packed types of these fish may have been processed in China or elsewhere in SE Asia. Always go for fish that is caught and processed in Alaska or Canada only!

The first fish that we believe would be a great alternative is the Alaskan Pollock. This fish is the most caught fish in the entire world! It is estimated that around 3-4 million tons of Alaskan Pollock are caught in the Pacific Ocean every year! Many people eat Alaskan Pollock on a regular basis, and don’t even know about it. Alaskan Pollock is often marketed in cafes and restaurants as “white fish”. It is often the main ingredient in fish sandwiches, and is even the fish used in the McDonald’s Fillet-O-Fish. A large amount of Alaskan Pollock is ground up and used as the fish in surimi, otherwise known as imitation crab. The reason it is so widely used is that Alaskan Pollock is arguably the most versatile fish in the world. It has a very light flavor, which allows it to be cooked in any way and any method. This fish would be absolutely ideal for anyone who does not want fish with strong flavor. Alaskan Pollock is low in fat, high in protein and is a great source of Vitamin B-12!

Another fantastic alternative for Tilapia, Basa or swai is either Pacific Cod or the Atlantic Cod. This fish is extremely popular throughout the world where it is used in many different recipes, including the very popular Fish & ChipsPacific Cod is the second largest fishery in the world, which brings in around 1.5 million to 2 million tons of fish every year from around the world. It is very popular for its white and flaky meat, which holds a very light flavor. This fish is also very versatile and can be prepared using a huge assortment of methods and accompaniments. Pacific Cod asked is low on fat, and is a fantastic source for protein. It is also full of Vitamins D, B-12, B6 and Magnesium!

The next level of alternatives to Tilapia, Basa and Swai are the Flounder. Different types of Flounder and sole have their own unique flavors. Some of which may be considered to have to strong a taste for some consumers, especially some of who turned to Tilapia, Basa and Swai due to their light flavors. Flounders and Sole are born looking like any other fish, but as they mature into adulthood, their eyes move to one side and they flatten so that they can hide on the sea floor. Depending on the type of flatfish, the flavor may vary from very light to quite strong. Also most Flounder can be quite bony, as it is difficult to remove the bones in some types. One major benefit of flatfish is that they are usually quite versatile. Flounder are usually low on fat, high on protein, a superb source of Vitamin D and a good source of Vitamin B-12.

ROCKFISH is also a fantastic alternative to Tilapia, Basa and Swai. There are many types of ROCKFISH, which range from a whiter color to a gray. Rockfish is usually not as versatile as all of the fish listed above, but it has great flavor. For people who are looking for a fish with light flavor a rockfish will end up pushing it, as they have stronger flavor. The meat of Rockfish is also much firmer than the other examples that we have provided, but the meat is just as flaky as Pacific Cod. ROCKFISH, like the above examples is a lean source of protein, and it is also a fantastic source of Vitamin D.

There are many fantastic alternatives to Tilapia, Basa and Swai. Many great retailers provide these fish straight from Alaska and Canada, both of which have very high quality standards and do not mess with additives. We invite you to take a look at our selection of seafood, which comes from our facility in Kodiak, Alaska. In reality any reputable grocery store would sell these fish, just make sure you buy wild and check to see that it never saw China in its journey to your table.

Update!  You Will Want To Read This!

On November 10th, 2016 a woman living in Bellevue, Washington contracted Vibrio vulnificus due to contact with Tilapia that she purchased from her local store.  This bacteria is rare, but it can occur in filter-feeding fish, just like Tilapia.  Illness from this bacteria can occur from physical contact to a wound, or from ingestion.  In this particular case the woman cut her hand while handling raw Tilapia.

This is a very serious infection, which can cause symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.  But it does not stop there!  Vibrio can cause necrosis of the flesh, giving it the nickname "flesh eating bacteria".  Along with necrosis, this bacteria can cause sepsis.  The combination of the two are very serious, and may require removal of the infected tissue, amputation and may even be fatal.

As we stated before, this infection is very rare, but the question that you should be asking yourself is whether it is worth the risk.  Flesh Eating Bacteria is most commonly found in fresh water fish, like Tilapia and is very rarely found in salt water fish.  One of the very few exceptions to that rule is stingrays, which can cause this infection with the strike of their barbs.  

Nikolai Nikitenko
Nikolai Nikitenko


5 Responses

November 15, 2016

I will be trying swai for the first, and maybe the last time very soon for a review. Tilapia on the other hand, I won’t touch. I didn’t like it even before I learned about how they are raised.


November 02, 2016

First, there’s something very important missing from this article. The price of seafood. We may not like how the food is raised, produced or where it comes from but Tilapia and Swai are inexpensive compared to Flounder or Pacific Cod. For those of us trying to eat healthier and on a budget this is important information we should know about.
Second, in nearly every grocery store I go into most of the frozen fish is imported. Where are the US based fish companies? If I can get it and the price is right, I would buy American.

Harry  Davisi
Harry Davisi

September 18, 2016

I have been a fan of swai for the last couple of years,but after reading this article I will not eat it again!
I will research any new good choices prior to indulging in the future.

Iris Johnson
Iris Johnson

September 14, 2016

Thanks for such an informative article. I tried tilapia but eventually stopped eating it because it tasted dirty and I did not like the texture. I researched swai fish and after reading various articles, I decided I was not willing to try it. Trying to eat healthy is good but we need to research foods before we try them.


September 05, 2016

I stay with Wild Alaskan fish like cod and pollock. I like seafood, not river food

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in News

Rockfish: The Secret on Your Plate
Rockfish: The Secret on Your Plate

by Nikolai Nikitenko January 16, 2017

Continue Reading →

How to Choose and Buy White Fish Fillets
How to Choose and Buy White Fish Fillets

by Nikolai Nikitenko January 13, 2017 1 Comment

Continue Reading →

Tips On How To Select Seafood
Tips On How To Select Seafood

by Nikolai Nikitenko December 28, 2016

Continue Reading →