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China’s Seafood Is Seriously Plagued by Superbugs

Deadly catch. Photo: Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images

The food supply has already shown itself to be alarmingly adept at vectoring superbugs into the human body, but a new report suggests maybe China really wants to see if it can push this to the next level. While the rest of the world finally understands antibiotics in meat are causing an epidemic of multidrug-resistant bacteria, China’s aquaculture industry apparently remains a place that, to quote Bloomberg’s story, “exposes the fish to almost the same doses of medicine the livestock get,” plus whatever drug cocktail gets tossed into the water to fight aquatic disease.

This industry currently accounts for about a quarter of the world’s seafood. Many farms will have pigs next to their tilapia or shrimp, and waste swimming with swine antibiotics drains from the pigpens directly into the ponds. This has scientists extra nervous because it suggests some of Earth’s hardest-to-treat bacteria “could be lingering in people’s refrigerators or on their kitchen countertops” — special home delivery, basically, instead of requiring international travel.

Americans really put away the shrimp in particular these days (intake has doubled since the ’90s). Ninety percent of that is imported, though at least on paper not much comes from China. Problem is, as is basically common knowledge now, there are reasons to be dubious of almost any claim made by Asian seafood suppliers, and Bloomberg guesses lots of the “Malaysian” fish in the frozen aisle is secretly still Chinese, and therefore possibly teeming with fecal swine germs.

The U.S. government still does a pretty decent job keeping most of it out, but it’s hardly perfect. And anyone wondering how bad things could get needs to look no further than China, where the rate of drug resistance, unsurprisingly, is already one of the world’s worst. As many as 83 percent of “healthy” people there carry bacteria in their guts that can destroy penicillin, and 43 percent of random seafood samples in the country were shown to harbor some germ that’s multidrug-resistant.

China’s Seafood Is Seriously Plagued by Superbugs