Current Affairs / Health

Cause of Death: Consumption of Basa Fish

Is it possible that the after-school fish stick snacks you have been feeding your child could possibly be contaminated with deadly metals such as mercury?

Picture taken from Flickr:


Is it possible that the after-school fish stick snacks you have been feeding your child could possibly be contaminated with deadly metals such as mercury?! Unfortunately, the answer is YES. The dangers of consuming too much fish are usually paired with the not-so-rare disease hydrargyria (better known as mercury poisoning) but now it seems that there’s a new danger to this delicious after-school snack and ambient dinner main course.

A popular frozen fish product imported from Vietnam called basa fish just made the “Do Not Consume” list. Basa fish (known in the UK as Vietnamese river cobbler) is a type of catfish that is farmed in pens along the Mekong River. Basa fish is known for its mild taste and flaky white meat and is becoming the preferred type of fish among consumers because of its “cleaner” and almost bland taste compared to other types of farm-raised fish.

Consumers in The United States were introduced to basa fish in 1994 after the trade embargo with Vietnam was finally lifted. It was not a popular choice at first, but now it is a great competition for domestic catfish farmers. This is because basa fish is cheaper than catfish, has similar taste, and the quality of it is not any less. The quick rise in the basa fish’s popularity created the “Catfish War” in The United States.

A few years after the spike in popularity of basa fish, scientists discovered the danger of its consumption. Basa fish are farmed along the Mekong River—one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Large manufacturers planted along this river frequently dump extremely toxic and dangerous chemicals and industrial waste directly into it.   In June of 2001, the US Food and Drug Administration imposed increased and more thorough testing on Southeast Asian farm-raised seafood including the basa fish after repeatedly discovering fish contaminated with heavy metals and banned antibiotics.

Mekong River. Picture acquired from Flickr:

In March 2007, The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service surveyed 100 fish from this river and detected 14 antimicrobial chemicals at low levels, including sulphonamides, tetracyclines, malachite green, penicillin, quinolones, flouroquinolones and phenicols antimicrobial chemical groups. Regarding these findings, Peter Collignon, director of microbiology and infectious diseases at the Australian National University medical school reports that “this means [that] antibiotics were used in the production of those fish… [and] superbugs can develop and they can remain [in the fish] and come across to people and cause problems.”

Farmed basa fish are not fed their natural foods. They are fed the bones and remnants of dead fish usually after a period of time after the fishes’ deaths—giving time for bacteria to grow and infect the “basa fish food.” These farmed fish are also often injected with dehydrated urine of pregnant women forcing female basa fish to grow and produce eggs quicker and the injection of hormones, imported from a pharmaceutical company in China, increases the speed of the growth and production processes of the fish. Farmers of these fish are only concerned with the progression rates and the income these fish bring in with no concern for the consumers.

To summarize everything in a few words: basa fish may be poisonous!

Side effects include vomiting, diarrhea and other effects that often stem from food poisoning. True, there may be a few out there who are able to tolerate the fish without having to suffer these side effects, but you should be aware of the health precautions.

Hopefully from now on, you will be aware of the potential risks basa fish poses to your health. It’s easy enough when you’re shopping for fresh fish, but be especially aware when buying packaged seafood like imitation crab, fish sticks, fish terrines, and even pet food. Simply flip the package to the back and check the list of ingredients to make sure that basa fish isn’t an ingredient.

Is saving a few pennies a pound worth the risk of exposing your family to such deadly fish? There is a chance the fish are completely clean and will cause no problems, but considering the risks, is it worth it to assume the fish are uncontaminated when it comes to your loved-ones? Keep in mind that if a price is too good to be true, most likely, it IS too good to be true!