Food fraud: Gel-injected shrimp in China edition

The Epoch Times reports that Ms. Yang in the southern China port city of Guangzhou bought six giant tiger prawns for $66 in October—she was happy with the purchase, until she found gel inside the heads of the prawns. The purchase would have been cheaper without the presence of the unwanted compound.

food.fraud.shrimpSuch gel, the presence of which is not typically detectable upon superficial inspection, is injected some time between when the shrimp are caught and when they’re sold, in order to add weight and thus reap a greater profit. Shrimp sold live have not been injected, because the injection would kill the shrimp.

Chinese food authorities have not been particularly active in pursuing the cases brought to their attention, according to interviews and news reports, and there is not even a consensus at which point in the production line the operation takes place.

China is the third largest exporter of seafood to the United States, and it also exports significant amounts of shrimp and catfish, representing 2 of the 10 most consumed seafood products in the country. Nearly $150 million worth of shrimp were imported from China between January and October 2015, according to data by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The problem has persisted for over a decade, despite new cases regularly reported in the press. Some of the first well-publicized cases of the dreaded gel-injected shrimp appeared in 2005, the same year in which the municipal government of Tianjin launched a strike-hard campaign against shrimp injectors. The report, which referred to the campaign gave no details about how many were arrested, or whether the shrimp adulteration rings were broken.

It is unclear how much, or if any of the gel-injected shrimp make their way to these shores, but food safety experts said there is reason to be concerned. The Food and Drug Administration issued an import alert on Dec. 11, 2015, about the “presence of new animals drugs and/or unsafe food additives” from seafood imported in China, including shrimp.

In some of the cases that have been examined—not always an easy task in China—the gelatin found in the shrimp was the innocuous, edible kind. It is usually extracted from animal skins and bones, and composed of collagen. But because the operation is illegal and unsupervised, there is no telling whether the next gel used will be industrial.