It’s on menus everywhere, but is tilapia good for you?
Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year the New York Times reports, citing US Department of Agriculture statistics.
The so-called “aquatic chicken” tastes bland and, just like chicken cutlets, works well in a range of recipes, taking on rather than fighting the flavors of accompanying ingredients. The fact that it doesn’t taste fishy is one of the secrets of its success. The other is that it’s “the perfect factory fish,” fast and easy to breed, feed, grow and harvest.
Of course, the factory fish haven’t always been perfect, with unsanitary conditions reported at some production facilities and slap-dash farming methods wreaking havoc in poorer countries’ ecosystems. Most tilapia consumed in the US is imported, with Honduras virtually the sole source for fresh tilapia, and China supplying 83% of frozen tilapia (according to Datamyne first-quarter data). So policing tilapia aquaculture has fallen to international standards-setting organizations – something we’ve written about before (see Certifiably Sustainable Seafood).
What’s new to us in the NYT story is that farmed tilapia offers little of the omega-3 oils that make fish a health food for humans. That’s because the fish in captivity don’t get to eat lake plants and algae as they would in the wild; they’re fed corn and soy. (Ironically, soy- and corn-based fish feeds are being promoted as US exports.) It will be interesting to see if the news that tilapia is lacking in fatty oils has any impact on sales.
Certainly the industry has been working hard to assure consumers that tilapia aquaculture meets high standards of sanitary processing and sustainability. If you’re eating tilapia, there’s a good chance your fish came from one of the suppliers on Datamyne’s list of top shippers to the US. They supplied almost 40% of the frozen tilapia imports in the first quarter of this year. You’ll also find these companies on the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s list of companies certified to have adopted Best Aquaculture Practices (see the BAP list here).
1. Gallant Ocean International, Inc.
>includes shipments from Gallant Ocean International, Lianjiang and Nanhai companies
2. Evergreen Aquatic Product Science and Technology
>includes Beihai, Gaoyao, and Zhanjiang companies
3. Guangxi Nanning Baiyang Food Co.
>a member of the Baiyang Group, as is Guangdong Yujia Seafood below
5. Guangdong Yujia Seafood Co., Ltd.
>a member of the Baiyang Group, as is Guangxi Nanning Baiyang Food above
>link is to a Chinese language site
8. Hainan Sky-Blue Ocean Foods Co., Ltd.
9. Maoming Changxing Foods Co., Ltd.
10. Zhenye Aquatic
>includes Zhenye Aquatic & Cool Storage and Zhenye Aquatic (Huilong)