In April 2013, the Southern Shrimp Alliance sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), expressing three concerns:  (1) Are there any known human health implications for the consumption of shrimp contaminated with the microbe that causes early mortality syndrome (EMS)?; (2) What is known about the potential of EMS to spread to wild shrimp resources from aquaculture?; and (3) What is known about the potential for the microbe causing EMS to spread to U.S. shrimp farms?
The letter asked “what steps have been undertaken to protect US shrimp farms?” and “what steps has the US government taken to protect wild shrimp resources and the marine environment?”  The letter noted that “Ecuador and Mexico have both implemented bold measures to prevent any infected shrimp from entering their countries” and requested that the federal agencies “take the appropriate actions to protect our citizens and businesses as well.”
Responses from each agency were sent to the Southern Shrimp Alliance in June 2013.
For its part, the FDA asserted that “the most recent research indicates that EMS poses no human food safety risk” and that the “FDA believes that human food safety concerns related to EMS are minimal . . .”
All three agencies argued that there was little risk of disease transmission through frozen shrimp.
Commerce, through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), stated that “EMS is not known to be present in the United States.”
Each of the letters acknowledged the severity of the threat posed to shrimp production by EMS and the USDA explained that it “is aware of the impact that a disease such as EMS could have if it were to become established in the United States.”
The USDA also observed that “following best management practices including biosecurity greatly reduces the risk of this or any number of water-borne aquaculture diseases spreading between farms, or from farms to wild shrimp resources.”  The USDA concluded its letter by promising that the agency “will continue to monitor new scientific findings about EMS as they emerge, and we will take these into account when determining what actions may be warranted to ensure the U.S. shrimp is protected.”
One week ago, on August 23rd, with little fanfare or publicity, the USDA notified the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of the first documented case of acute hepatopancreatic necrosis disease (AHPND), or EMS, in the United States.  The USDA’s notice reported an outbreak of AHPND amongst pacific white shrimp (vannamei) at a “semi-closed” shrimp farm in Cameron County, Texas in June 2017, confirmed through laboratory tests in July.  The notification reported that the source of the outbreak or origin of infection was “unknown or inconclusive” and that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services, along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, were “conducting an epidemiological investigation of the event.”
The USDA’s report for the first time confirms that EMS has now been introduced into the United States.  It is unclear what steps, if any, have been undertaken by federal agencies to prevent the spread of the virus associated with AHPND/EMS, vibrio parahaemolyticus, beyond encouraging best management practices.
In contrast, other countries have begun to take aggressive measures to prevent the spread of disease from shrimp aquaculture operations.  For example, a July 14, 2017 report in Seafood Source observed that:  “Recently, six big importers – Australia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil, and Mexico – have said they will only buy products with disease-free certification in accordance with World Organization for Animal Health regulations, or products recognized as free of diseases by their authorized agencies.”
Review the USDA’s August 23rd notification of the “first occurrence” of AHPND to the OIE here:
Read the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s April 24, 2013 letter to the USDA, Commerce, and FDA here:
Read NMFS’s June 4, 2013 letter to the Southern Shrimp Alliance here:
Read the FDA’s June 11, 2013 letter to the Southern Shrimp Alliance here:
Read the USDA’s June 12, 2013 letter to the Southern Shrimp Alliance here:
Read Mike Urch’s Vietnamese Shrimp Producers in Danger of Losing Export Markets, Seafood Source (July 14, 2017) here: