Early Mortality Syndrome

Today the Southern Shrimp Alliance sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to raise alarm over the potential effects and spread of a disease currently devastating shrimp farms in southeast Asia.

Little is known about this disease, described as “Early Mortality Syndrome”, which causes 100 percent mortality in affected shrimp ponds.  Only very recently have scientists begun to suspect the disease is caused by bacteria, and virtually nothing is known about how to prevent or treat it.

Of even greater concern, there appears to be little reliable information about the potential adverse implications if this disease finds it way to the US through imports of infected shrimp.

In the letter, SSA’s Executive Director John Williams asks; “what is known about the potential adverse implications for human health from the consumption of raw or cooked shrimp infected with the microbe causing EMS? Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are known to emerge from the persistent and widespread use of veterinary drugs such as has occurred on shrimp farms in these nations. If such implications exist or are as yet unknown, what steps has the US government taken to protect human health?”

Mr. Williams goes on to raise similar questions about the potential for the disease to spread into the wild; damaging shrimp resources and the ecosystem on which they depend.  The transmission of diseases from aquaculture operations into the wild has been documented with other species.  Finally, the letter also raises concern for the spread of the disease to shrimp farms in the US.

The letter further notes that both Ecuador and Mexico have banned shrimp imports from affected countries for the time being.  Given the number of unknowns and the potential implications, SSA trusts the US government to take whatever steps are necessary and appropriate to protect US consumers and businesses.


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