WORLDWIDE: World Wildlife Fund (WWF) researchers determined that farmed shrimp from Thailand, Vietnam, and India could be traced back to their countries of origin with more than 98 per cent confidence through a process known as elemental profiling.
According to these scientists, with greater refinement, elemental profiling may help importers, customs officials, retailers, and others trace globally traded seafood back to its source, which can shed light on production practices with critical environmental and social implications.
Elemental profiling is the process of analyzing a set of the elements that make up a material or species. In this case, 23 elements found in shrimp were examined, including essential macro- and micro-nutrients and non-essential trace elements, in headless shell on shrimp (HLSO) samples were analyzed by ICP-AES (Inductively Coupled Plasma - Atomic Emission Spectrometry).
The study, supported by Auburn University and Ocean University of China, looked at farmed Pacific white shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) from three major exporting countries – India, Vietnam, and Thailand.
“Traceability allowing consumers to know where their shrimp came from largely isn’t possible in the mainstream markets today,” said Aaron McNevin, Ph.D., director of sustainable food at WWF.
McNevin explained that without knowing where a product is coming from, it is impossible to determine if the environment at a farm is being compromised or if workers are being mistreated.
“Elemental profiling gets us one step closer to farm origin and that’s what we are after,” the director stressed.
WWF researchers claim that today, when it is even possible, tracking farmed shrimp to its source depends on records often provided by exporters and that there is no objective way to verify these records with certainty, leaving opportunities for mislabeling and fraud.
In their view, lack of transparency and traceability prevents buyers from obtaining critical information including environmental stewardship and natural resource use, as well as worker welfare and food safety.
“We have attempted elemental profiling in the southeastern U.S. and it worked well for catfish and shrimp – the logical choice was to expand to the major farming countries,” said Claude Boyd, Ph.D., Professor of Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences at Auburn University.
The study confirmed accuracy in the traceability of shrimp to a parent country, as it found that trying to trace the origin down to states or provinces showed promise, but it was not as reliable as traceability on the country scale.