Tilapia raised on feces hits US tables

The garbage fish isn't picky with its eating habits. That makes it cheap to farm and buy, but a big health risk to consumers who don't check its country of origin.

By Jason Notte Jul 16, 2013 4:22PM
Credit: © Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Caption: sushi-grade tilapia from ChinaAs fish go, tilapia's lifestyle leaves much to be desired.

They're a "garbage fish" in every sense of the word. They can survive in hopelessly polluted environments, they can be bred and raised in garbage cans and, when necessary, can subsist on a diet of other animals' excrement.

It makes Tilapia so easily farmed that Americans eat close to 500 million pounds of it a year, according to the Department of Agriculture, or more than four times the amount of Tilapia they ate a decade ago.

It also makes it bland and not particularly healthy for you. When its diet consists of manure, however, it's basically like feeding them salmonella and E.coli.

Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, notes that the large amount of antibiotics that are given to the fish to ward off infections from the manure -- which is used as a cheap alternative to fish feed -- makes the strains of salmonella and E.coli those fish catch extremely hard to eliminate.

"While there are some really good aquaculture ponds in Asia, in many of these ponds -- or really in most of these ponds -- it's typical to use untreated chicken manure as the primary nutrition," he told MSN News. "In some places, like Thailand for example, they will just put the chickens over the pond and they just poop right in the pond."

That's creating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, but it's also creating problems for U.S. eaters who get 82% of their Tilapia from China. Last month it was announced that production of farmed fish had overtaken farmed beef for the first time in recorded history. Large amounts of that production come from farms like those featured in Bloomberg's October piece, titled simply "Asian seafood raised on pig feces approved for U.S. consumers."

According to Bloomberg, 27% of seafood consumed in in the United States comes from China, and yet the FDA only inspects 2.7% of the fish that gets imported. Of the fish inspected, the FDA has reportedly rejected 820 Chinese seafood shipments since 2007, including 187 that contained tilapia.

Yet Tilapia is so cheap and plentiful that it's popularity is still growing among American consumers despite its negligible health benefits. With that in mind, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program suggests buyers consider the source of their Tilapia before making a purchase. While Tilapia raised in the U.S., Canada and Ecuador all pass muster, those from China and Taiwan are iffy alternates.

More on moneyNOW

Jul 16, 2013 6:09PM
Gives new meaning to the phrase "Eat $hit and die"
Brought to you and approved by the FDA.
Jul 16, 2013 5:35PM
From the first bite I took of Tilapia I didn't like it, no taste at all. It's the fish that made me decide if it wasn't wild caught sea food I don't want it. Tuna can be raised in nets and fed whatever the hell they want including antibiotics. A really crazy setup is they raise salmon in a hatchery then release them to the ocean, marking them with a pherimone that when the salmon's clock says it's time to return and spawn they swim right into the processing plant. I won't eat Vietnamese shrimp. You can look up why if you want, stuff's not fit for human consumption  :p
Jul 16, 2013 6:13PM
Same way with farm raised shrimp coming from Asia. No taste compared to wild Gulf shrimp caught in the US waters. Look at the packaging and you will see almost all of Wal-Mart's shrimp is farmed in Asia today.
Jul 16, 2013 6:41PM
I saw that Tilapia ate feces on an episode of "Dirty Jobs", so I never tried it.  When I worked at a fish market, people would rave about Tilapia and ask why we didn't carry it.  I'll bet they wouldn't want to touch it if they knew what the fish ate.  Wild caught fish is more expensive because of the hard work fisherman endure to catch them, but the flavor and quality is well worth it.
Jul 16, 2013 6:23PM

Solution= ban imported tilapia. I am sure the US can scrounge enough trashcans to raise a few fish instead of shipping half way around the world.

Jul 16, 2013 5:45PM
 .raise tilapia in your commode, that way you save water and have fresh fish daily.
Jul 16, 2013 6:05PM
Jul 16, 2013 11:17PM
I avoid eating farm raised fish and seafood, especially the $hit from Asia.  As a boy Dad would sometimes get a can of smoked oysters and they were tasty.  But that was back in the 60s and the oysters came from the USA.  But for the last ~20 years they all come from the $hit Asian countries so I don't eat them anymore.  I also stopped buying pine nuts from Trader Joe's when I read on the package (and TJ's confirmed when I emailed them) they were from China.  I will, though, buy Norwegian sardines packed in olive oil, they taste good and seem like they would be reasonably safe.
Jul 16, 2013 6:07PM
When I was a girl, there were so many different kinds of fish - flounder, swordfish, trout, and more - now you're lucky if they call it something besides "fish." I've almost stopped eating it because of the contamination.
Jul 17, 2013 3:13AM
Want to know what shrimp, lobster, and catfish eat? (Also, just about any fish with a small mouth and big lips) And yes, in the wild too. They're nature's little cleaner-uppers!
Jul 16, 2013 6:42PM

I'll have a side of radiation deformed vegitables with my three eyed fish dinner please....oh don't forget the craft of fracking fluids to wash it all down.


Yeah, deregulation is what we need more of, and more of this "clean" energy BS.


Anyone else starting to think Big Tobbaco was just a patsy?





Jul 16, 2013 10:20PM
Me and my wife decided to go on an all fish diet, She bought &50.00 worth of tilapia at Wal-Mart, As soon as we read how they raised the fish she returned it ASAP. The people of China will not even eat tilapia so that tells you a lot. Haddock is hard to find anymore so this junk fish raised on animal waste is to make up for it. Read how most food is making people sick. You will be surprised.
Jul 17, 2013 5:58AM
We've been eating garbage for years without knowing it.
Jul 17, 2013 1:51AM
Is anything, ANYTHING made in China safe?  EVER?  It looks like on their way to making money, they forgot to read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.  Funny for a "People's Republic."  Of course they are the most misnamed country in history:  Not of the People, Not a Republic and not China, because they are holding slave nations such as Tibet.  JUST ATE MY LAST TILAPIA, at the least I will check to make sure they are not made in the great "People's Republic of China," a tyranny committing ethnic genocide in Tibet.
Jul 17, 2013 4:01AM
its time to bring lion fish to the menu..
Jul 16, 2013 6:07PM
I don't eat fish at all with all the contaminants..  Yuck. 
Jul 17, 2013 1:45AM

I've been telling people for years, that most or a lot of this fish is nothing but fancy carp or bottom feeders.

We had wild caught salmon off the Coast or close by rivers tonight...I had seconds.

Screw these gd junk fish with fancy names...

Wake up.

Jul 16, 2013 5:47PM
Catfish can and will survive on the same diet. I don't eat any form of garbage fish. from clams to catfish, you are what you eat eats!
Jul 17, 2013 10:54AM

As a fisherman; I HATE TALAPIA !! Smells like dirt, taste like dirt. The only use I have for that is bait or chum - yuk!!!

Might as well eat grunts- at least they taste ok.

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