Every year Australians eat around 13 kilograms of fish per person. And if health authorities had their way, we'd be eating even more. But in the face of that increasing demand, the local fishing industry is facing declining stocks and fewer licences, meaning we have to get used to having less home grown fish. Consequently, in recent years, the relatively cheap Vietnamese or Mekong catfish has made huge inroads into our market. Not that most consumers would know. Lax naming laws mean the imported fish is often sold under more familiar, local sounding names. Of particular concern is the fact that some of this fish has been found to contain traces of a suspected carcinogen. The same problems have occurred in and around Sydney Australia and bans were imposed on recreational and commercial fishing over a year ago. yet the govt is allowing this suspect fish to be imported with impunity because of its weak inspection guidelines
Australians love their seafood and are being urged to eat more for health reasons. Increasingly it comes from overseas, so what exactly are we eating?
Over the past few years, there's been an influx of this boneless, skinless lightly flavoured fillet. Generally it is called basa.
It has penetrated the market quite drastically and most of the fish and chip shops are using it in place of the more expensive fish.
What most Australians probably don't know is it's a Vietnamese catfish, farmed in the waters of the Mekong Delta.
Might as well be called Tongan terakihi for all I care but it should be known as Vietnamese catfish.
At the moment in Australia there are laws saying what a fish must be called. For example, this piece from a Coles supermarket came from a batch simply labeled "fresh water fillets" although basa appeared on the price tag. Coles said that was an exception to store policy, which is to label it at the deli counter as both imported and basa. Elsewhere the fish is sometimes called freshwater dory or more controversially pacific dory or pacific roughie.
This basa fillet is neither from the Pacific or is it a dory so that name is purely a promotional name and very deceptive to the public.
The reason this naming issue is so crucial is that if consumers knew it came from the Mekong Delta they might think twice about eating it.
The Mekong River is a known SEWER. The fishing industry is not that big an industry worldwide. We know what sort of waters people are taking fish out of.
The concerns I have with basa as a fish is basically the innuendos about its quality and the safety assurance that the consumer has with it.
The committee that's currently deciding on the official names for all fish sold here are saying the naming issues are real, but the health concerns are a beat up.
A strong supporter of the local industry importing selectively for his business said he doesn't worry about the basa's living conditions. He probably doesn't eat the shit laden fish
Internationally, there's also been concern that traces of a chemical called malachite green have been found in basa. It's a green textile dye approved in pet shops for aquarium fish, but using it on aqua culture fish is illegal here, in the US, the UK, China and many other countries. It's been used as a fungicide but it's suspected of causing cancer and leaves behind a harmful residue called leuchomalachite.
It's a safety issue in Europe, safety issue in the US. Why not in Australia.
The organisation governing food standards says malachite green is not being tested because of safety concerns, but because no one has applied to approve the chemical for use, maximum residue levels have not been set, hence it is illegal. Supporters of basa argue the proven health benefits of eating fish would far outweigh any suspected harm of levels of malachite green found so far. Australian authorities started testing for the chemical in September last year. Five per cent of all farmed fish imports is only tested on a random basis. Well, 5 per cent is a very small figure. It's a very small figure, indeed, when you consider the tonnage that's involved.
Australia's testing was prompted by what was found in 60 fish samples a few months ago. Ten tested positive for leuchomalachite and in some cases malachite green. The food standards body says that very small levels of the chemicals did not present a public health concern. The seven foreign positive tests were all basa
Last October, 10 days after testing began. Two of the three samples showed leuchomalachite green. One sample showed 10 times the detectable amount. The lab involved confirmed the document was from one of its reports, but wouldn't say who commissioned the tests. This argument about basa comes as the Australian fishing industry feels the pinch. Australia produces relatively low volumes of high-quality fish and the costs of being clean and green make it vulnerable to large quantities of cheap imports like basa.
As far as the naming issues go, it's thought officially enforceable titles should be standardised early next year. Consumers might then be able to separate shitfish and sewer born catfish from the roughies. basa Freshwater fish my arse.
These fish are river cleaners, living in waters that are virtual sewers if you are offered this for your next meal tell them where to stuff it, it will feel at home.
Sunday, 8 July 2007
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