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In 2017, the CVUA Karlsruhe again detected antibiotic residues in several shrimp samples from Asian aquaculture.

Dr. Christina Skiera, CVUA Karlsruhe


Antibiotic residues were found in 8 of the 114 shrimp samples examined. Two samples contained antibiotic residues in concentrations well above the legally permitted maximum amount. It was precisely these shrimp samples that were marketed with the ASC logo - a clear contradiction to the specifications of the ASC standard for shrimp. Two other shrimp samples that showed multiple residues with up to four different antibiotic active ingredients were also conspicuous, all below the respective permissible limit value.


Figure 1: Prawns on ice


How do antibiotic residues occur in shrimp?

The demand for shrimp is very high worldwide. The three largest importers of shrimp are the European Union, followed by the USA and Japan. According to the current market report by the World Food Organization (FAO), the EU imported more than 780,000 t of shrimp in 2017 alone. Wild shrimp catch is nowhere near enough to meet this huge demand. Around 75% of the shrimp consumed in the EU come from non-EU countries, mainly from China and South and Southeast Asian countries. Most of the shrimp are produced in shrimp farms. Intensive aquaculture with high stocking densities makes the animals more susceptible to disease. This makes the increased use of antibiotics necessary. In addition to approved antibiotics (e.g. tetracyclines, penicillins), prohibited or prohibited substances such as chloramphenicol, nitrofurans or triphenylmethane dyes are used again and again.

Shrimp project 2017 at the CVUA Karlsruhe

Since 2014, the CVUA Karlsruhe has been increasingly examining shrimp for residues of pharmacologically active substances. (Reports: "Detection of antibiotic residues in shrimp from Asia", "Continued complaints about aquaculture products from Asia")

In 2017, one of the focal points of the investigation was shrimp from Asian aquacultures. A total of 114 shrimp and shrimp products were tested for residues of tetracyclines, sulfonamides, nirofurans and chloramphenicol as well as triphenylmethane dyes. Antibiotic residues were found in eight samples (7%). Table 1 provides a detailed overview.


Sample no.
ASC seal

MRL: maximum residue limit (maximum residue amount according to VO (EG) 470/2009)
MRPL: minimum required performance limit (minimum performance limits according to decision 2002/657 / EG)


Two samples (No. 1 and 2) contained doxycycline and oxytetracycline in concentrations well above the legally permitted maximum amount. These were objected to by the CVUA Karlsruhe. Chloramphenicol was detected in traces in one sample (No. 3). Chloramphenicol is a bacteriostatic antibiotic with a relatively broad spectrum of activity. It is suspected of being genotoxic and in rare cases it can lead to aplastic anemia, a special form of anemia, in humans. Therefore, chloramphenicol must not be given to treat shrimp. However, the determined content was still below the intervention value (MRPL Miniumum Required Limit) for products imported from countries outside the EU (Decision 2005/34 / EC), so that the sample is marketable in the EU.


Antibiotic residues in shrimp samples with the ASC seal

The two shrimp samples (No. 1 and 2), which contained antibiotic residues well above the maximum permissible residue level, were ASC-certified, i.e. the ASC logo was printed on the packaging. (see Fig. 2.) In both samples it was explicitly advertised that the shrimp were raised according to the principles of the ASC, the “Aquaculture Stewardship Council”. According to the ASC standard for shrimp, the use of antibiotics is permitted in ASC-certified farms, but shrimp that have been treated with antibiotics may not be marketed under the ASC logo. The marketing of these shrimps under the ASC logo is therefore to be assessed as misleading (within the meaning of Art. 7 (1) a) of Regulation (EU) 1169/2011). A consumer who chooses shrimp with the ASC logo expects that it will not contain any antibiotic residues. In another shrimp sample with the ASC seal (No. 5), the antibiotic oxytetracycline was detected just below the maximum permissible residue level.


ASC: Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

The ASC seal of approval sets standards for responsible and sustainable fish and seafood production in aquaculture and is the counterpart to the MSC seal for sea fishing. The organization ASC was founded in 2010 as an independent, non-commercial organization with the task of developing and operating standards for aquaculture products. A dialogue initiated by the WWF from various stakeholders such as fish farmers and environmental experts for more environmentally friendly aquaculture paved the way for the foundation. The first farms were certified in 2012. There are currently eight ASC standards for 12 species, including shrimp. The standards contain, for example, specifications on water quality, the traceability of fish feed, the location of the aquaculture and the use of antibiotics. The ASC standards are available to consumers on the ASC website.


Figure 2: ASC logo with accompanying ASC text


Multiple antibiotic findings

An unusual picture emerged for two of the shrimp samples examined (No. 4 and No. 5): These samples contained several antibiotics in small amounts, each below the corresponding permissible limit value. According to the experience of the CVUA Karlsruhe, the treatment of shrimp during rearing with three or even four different antibiotic active ingredients is not common. In the chemical-physical examination of the shrimp samples, the CVUA Karlsruhe basically proceeds in such a way that the entire sample is first homogenized and the homogenate is used for further tests. It is conceivable that in the present cases shrimp from different farms and thus also with different antibiotic residues were brought together. However, this would mean that any residues present in the individual populations would lead to lower levels in the overall sample. Although the two prawn samples meet the legal requirements, it cannot be ruled out that the maximum residue levels specified for individual prawns in the pack may be exceeded and that prawns that did not comply with the legal requirements were used for the production of the samples.


Conclusion and outlook

Due to the relatively high number of residue findings in shrimps from Asian aquaculture for the reporting year, the CVUA Karlsruhe will continue to increasingly examine these products for residues of pharmacologically active substances next year. An additional focus will be on the examination of Asian shrimp with organic seals.


additional Information

Website CVUA KA Dept. 3 PWS


Article first published on 10/30/2018 13:03:27