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Thailand shows the way to fight contamination — Shrimp farmers told to be cautious in antibiotic use

Amit Mitra


THE need for aquaculture research institutes to zero in on the precise source of antibiotic contamination of shrimp exports from India to tackle the problem was the spotlight of a brainstorming session on the issue of use of antibiotics in shrimp farming held here on Wednesday.

Punching holes in the scientific suggestions trotted out by shrimp culture experts, the brainstorming session, organised by the Mumbai-based Central Institute of Fisheries Education, appeared to end on an incomplete note for the participating farmers, who are still perplexed as to how to actually combat antibiotic contamination in shrimp farming.

The chorus at the meeting was the need for India to follow the Thailand way to root out antibiotic contamination in shrimp harvests.

Thailand, which was put on red alert by the US and European Union countries after they found significant antibiotic residues in its shrimp exports, is now bouncing back to business after it zeroed in on the precise source of contamination.

After quick and problem-specific research, scientists in Thailand discovered that the increasing use of growth stimulant by farmers was the primary source of antibiotic contamination. ``And after the farmers tackled the problem at this level, they are now back in business. We have to get our hands on the exact source of contamination,'' Mr T. Raghunath Reddy, President of the Seafood Exporters Association of India (SEAI), pointed out.

The fact that about 30 shrimp consignments from India were rejected in the US and EU markets during the last 11 months due to antibiotic contamination formed the backdrop of the brainstorming session. The low awareness levels among farmers, who continue to use antibiotics at random at almost every stage in shrimp culture and the need to regulate use of this substance were the main issues that were discussed.

What appeared to compound the problem was the lack of awareness amongst farmers due to the fact that almost 50 per cent of the area covered under shrimp culture in India belonged to small and marginal farmers, with 90 per cent of them having ponds of sizes less than two hectares. With share of cultured shrimps in the total shrimp exports from India increasing from 49 per cent to 86 per cent in terms of value during the last few years, this, indeed, poses a serious threat to the country's marine products export earnings.

Pointed out Mr Reddy: ``When a delegation of officials and SEAI representatives visited a small shrimp farm in Andhra Pradesh recently, we were shocked to find the farmer proudly displaying shelves full of antibiotic containers. He apparently thought we would be impressed at the way he was scientifically culturing shrimps.''

Noting that sometimes usage of antibiotics in shrimp farming could be necessary, the meeting felt that antibiotic manufacturers should be given strict guidelines to label their products as fit for use in aquaculture sector, along with the right amount of doses. ``We have seen instances when farmers are using veterinary-grade antibiotics,'' Mr Reddy pointed out.

But, Dr S.C. Mukherjee, CIFE Director, told farmers, ``there is no need to use antibiotics at all if proper and scientific shrimp culture practices were established.''

Another suggestion from experts to mitigate the problem was that if at all antibiotics were to be used, it should be done in the early part of the 130-day shrimp culture cycle. The reason: antibiotics have half-life, which means that during the second half of their life they lose the potency before dissolving altogether. Or alternatively, farmers could delay transportation of shrimps after harvest by observing quarantine to allow any antibiotic residue to biodegrade.

What, however, drew unanimity at the meeting was the need for India to tackle the problem soon by introducing a regulatory mechanism on one hand and undertaking problem-specific research by aquaculture research institutes on the other.

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