Made in China: Why You Shouldn’t Eat Tilapia

by Nikolai Nikitenko March 15, 2016 11 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.

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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!
Update!

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 and Chips. Pacific 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

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11 Responses

kara
kara

May 14, 2017

I guess you are an interested party, but I too never liked the muddy taste of tilapia – and I never knew what Swai was – I dont think I will eat swai after these are gone – bottom feeders – as Kosher law understood – can be unhelathy…too bad swai taste good and are cheap – I cant afford fish much anymore and everything seems to have a problem – no more tuna or salmon – the radiation and toxins – no bottom feeders – no shark – redsnapper pompano sea bass – all over $16 /lb that is a lot of chicken!

Nikolay O Nikitenko
Nikolay O Nikitenko

May 04, 2017

Thank you everyone for your great comments! I would like to answer some of your questions here!

Regina made a statement about the price of Tilapia vs wild US seafood. Yes it is true that higher quality products can cost more and may be harder to afford for low income families. But that is simply a choice they have to make. Here in Seattle we have a small difference in price for Tilapia and Wild US caught and processed Cod. That may change depending on where you are in the US, but if you cannot find a good supplier where you live, then you can always order online from companies like ourselves, where the price for high quality cod is equal to or lower than tilapia. But in situations where the price for tilapia or swai is lower, then you have to make a decision on how much you wish to risk your health or the health of your loved ones. As my good friend and nutritionist Brian Johnson always says, “If you skimp on your health today, you will splurge on your illness tomorrow”.

As for your question on where to find US made seafood; that really depends on your location in the country. I know for a fact that some grocery stores in the mid-west will only carry Chinese processed seafood and tilapia simply because it is cheaper and has better profit margins for them. If you live in those areas of the country, then your only bet is to buy online and have it shipped. But when you do go to the grocery store, you should check all the labels to see where the fish was processed and any added ingredients. If it is stated as “value added” and it is your basic run of the mill looking fish fillet with nothing else, then I guarantee that it may have something added to it over seas. Be vigilant, read labels, and ask the clerks at your store for information and details.

Next is Harryo who believes our article is baseless and false. First of all we are not the only ones raising this red flag. Just try to google the statement “Tilapia is healthy”. If a subject was polarized then you would get an abundance of articles proclaiming tilapia to be good for you, but you don’t. For that direct search term you will get nothing but articles warning you about the possible negative impact on your health. Read up on the nutritional make up of tilapia. You will see the high concentration of Omega 6, and then ask your doctor about how a high Omega 6 diet will affect your health. It is simple scientific and dietary fact. As for Swai and its dangers to your health, the fact is that Swai is only farmed on the Mekong River in South East Asia. Just look up the Mekong River’s pollution problem and you will find countless scientific studies on Vietnam’s pollution crisis with the river. Swimming in it is considered potentially harmful to your health. Imagine what eating food from it will do. These are not mere opinions, but solid facts.

Finally we have Verna, asking what Bass is. First of all Bass is not related to Basa. Bass is a general term for many types of Freshwater and Saltwater fish that resemble perch. Many types of bass are very delicious and good for you. Basa is a nickname given to Pangasius catfish, which are found only in SE Asia. Basa is also known as Swai.

We will add more responses to comments and answer more questions as they come! Remember if you have any further questions they can be directed to us! We are more than happy to answer any questions that you all may have! Thank you again for reading!

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 04, 2017

Great article! My son has been warning me about tilapia! Note taken!

Verna Bennett
Verna Bennett

April 28, 2017

All want to no was wat can of fish is bass i eat cod

Harryo
Harryo

March 09, 2017

In all of your investigative reporting, don’t see anyone having taken Talapia or Swai and done a analysis of the fish for harmful ingredients, might be helpful before you condemn. So far all I see something a President might run on Twitter.

Peter Clark
Peter Clark

February 22, 2017

Retiring in the Philippines I tried Tilapia but the “Muddy” flavour I dislike.. Catching a few from a man made lake tasted surprisingly clean and lacked this muddy stuff. Lots of pellets in the shops for breeding these fish but the ones I ate from the Lake I fish were just left to feed themselves and they are fine.

buyingseafood.com
buyingseafood.com

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.

Regina
Regina

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.

Nikita
Nikita

September 05, 2016

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

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