US stops imports of tainted shrimps from Malaysia

GEORGE TOWN • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US last year put 11 Malaysian shrimp exporters on a "red list" after samples from 18 shipments were found to contain chloramphenicol.

Between 2009 and 2018, the FDA red-listed 28 Malaysian shrimp exporters because 56 shipment samples contained nitrofurans.

But while these exports are curbed, farmed shrimps sold locally face fewer checks, The Star found.

Malaysians are unknowingly eating shrimps which contain antibiotics - nitrofurans and chloramphenicol - that can lead to serious health issues. And some of these shrimps - tiger prawns and Pacific whiteleg shrimps - can be commonly found for sale at most wet markets in Malaysia.

But the Fisheries Department said in a statement yesterday that it did not find any prohibited antibiotics in the 2,466 samples of local shrimps sent for analysis at its Fisheries Biosecurity laboratory since 2008.

The department said the ban on Malaysian shrimps imposed by the FDA did not involve the entire export of aquaculture products from Malaysia, according to a Bernama news agency report.

The US ban only applies to shrimp exporters whose shipments were found tainted with the prohibited antibiotics, it said.

The Star said in its report that market traders prefer to sell wild-caught shrimps rather than farmed ones which could contain the antibiotics.

Consumers like Dr P. Anita, 40, said it does not hurt to be extra careful. "It is easy to tell them apart. Wild shrimp are pink or pale and vary in sizes. Farmed ones are grey and are usually the same size."


Consumer groups have long warned about the consequences of ingesting such substances in seafood.

Experts believe that residues from these two antibiotics are carcinogenic.

Of the 28 Malaysian exporters red-listed by the FDA for trying to send in shrimps containing nitrofurans, 19 are based in Penang, The Star said. And of the 11 that tried to export chloramphenicol-tainted shrimps, eight have Penang addresses.

The rest are in Perak, Selangor, Kedah and Sarawak.

A worker at a large shrimp farm in Kedah, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that about 10 years ago, a strange disease hit the shrimps.

"We called it the early mortality syndrome. In just 30 days, nearly all of the shrimps died after being put in the ponds," he said, adding that farmed shrimps would usually take 70 to 100 days to reach harvestable sizes.

Farmers, he said, tried many types of medication but they all failed. So they resorted to nitrofurans and chloramphenicol.

When contacted, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) told The Straits Times on Monday (Jan 6) that it has not detected chloramphenicol or nitrofuran in shrimps and prawns imported from Malaysia in 2019.

Even so, SFA said that it will continue to regularly monitor and sample imported seafood products, including shrimps and prawns, for testing to ensure that they meet its food safety standards and requirements.

The agency said that this includes ensuring the products do not contain drug residues that may be potentially harmful to human health.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 05, 2020, with the headline 'US stops imports of tainted shrimps from Malaysia'. Subscribe