In the United States, 90 percent of all shrimp eaten is imported. However, only a fraction of those imports is inspected for harmful additives. Overlooking an unsafe shipment can have serious health consequences. Many shrimp farms use antibiotics to keep their shrimp alive, and harmful residues can end up in the mouths of consumers.

The fact that the FDA only tests about 0.7 percent of all the shrimp in this country for those antibiotic residues suggests that the agency is not actually testing enough shrimp to catch the illegal residue that is coming into the market.

Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Reports Food Safety

In this episode of Techknow, Shini Somara meets with US Food and Drug Administration inspectors at a port in southern California to learn more about how shrimp is federally tested. FDA inspectors select a sample for inspection based on a calculated risk score. The risk score takes into account company history, country of origin and other shipment information to determine how likely it is that the given shipment is violating US health standards. A selected sample is then transported to a lab where it is analysed for harmful residues.

Despite this selection process, critics question whether the FDA is doing enough to protect consumers from harmful residues. Among these critics is Urvashi Rangan, who headed a study on imported shrimp for Consumer Reports magazine.

"Of the 205 imported farmed samples that we found, 11 of those actually had illegal residues of antibiotics on them," she says. 

The use of antibiotics in shrimp farming raises serious public health concerns. The frequent use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. "If you get an infection from these bacteria," says microbiologist David Love, "It can be harder to treat using antibiotics, especially if these bacteria are resistant to the antibiotics that your doctor would prescribe."

But there may be safer ways to farm shrimp. A hormone-free and antibiotic-free indoor shrimp farm in Indiana called RDM Aquaculture proves that harmful additives are not necessary for raising shrimp.

The farm has perfected a zero-waste system that keeps its shrimp alive by treating the water with bacteria. The bacteria help convert the shrimp's waste into a harmless gas. The farm's pioneering efforts have paid off - the shrimp have a 90 percent survival rate, which is one-third higher than traditional outdoor shrimp farms.

Their farming method has caught on and they have sold their know-how to several farms in the United States, Switzerland, Haiti and Spain.

Techknow's Cara Santa Maria also looks into the groundwork being laid for a manned expedition to Mars. She meets Jaymee Del Rosario, a candidate selected by Mars One, a private company attempting to colonise the red planet. Jaymee Del Rosario explains her desire to be selected, even though the company only offers a one-way ticket to Mars. She says, "I am creating my own destiny for myself, and if it's a destiny that would help humanity, I am all for it."

Mars One has come under criticism for funding issues and reports of recording the mission for a reality TV show. But regardless of whether or not Mars One launches its mission, NASA is currently laying the groundwork for a manned expedition to Mars. This includes robotic programmes and a rigorous training programme aimed at simulating the conditions astronauts would face on Mars.

Source: Al Jazeera