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article imageOp-Ed: A dirty fish called Panga

By Alethea Borgman     Sep 17, 2009 in Food
Panga fish, otherwise known as Catfish, Bassa, Iridiscent Shark or Pangasius hypophthalmus, is being introduced into the European marketplace as a sustainable alternative to cod or other non-sustainable species.
According to the European Parliament, Spanish Authorities analyzed and confirmed Panga fish, which is commonly imported from Vietnam, is contaminated.
Here's my account of how I 'stumbled' across Panga today and what dangers those 'pink tinged, glistening, snowy' fillets of cod wannabees might hide.
I made the most terrible mistake. Well, two actually. The first happened last night when I happily drank an enormous amount of red wine believing I was invincible and immune to any inevitable side-effects.
Today’s regular morning visit to the local food market in the centre of town obviously didn’t happen.
Apart from being unable to think, quite apart from carrying out anything complicated, such as walking or God forbid, driving, I realised that my alcoholic-induced paralysis required more than a few aspirin and two litres of water to allay. I knew that on this occasion time would be the only healer and at least four hours extra sleep together with lots of fruit, water and cheese would be needed.
The archetypical Spanish tradition of a daily siesta demands total shut-down between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. As it was 1:30 p.m., I knew I needed to apply the dreaded supermarket format to today’s shopping trip as supermarkets (or their teams) resist the urge to race home at 2 p.m. for lunch and, of course, an afternoon nap.
No problem, "I’ll brave Carrefour" I thought. On second thoughts, the prospect of battling with autumn tourists and wayward trolleys sent spasms of nausea and fuzziness through my body so I chose Mercadona; the smaller of the two supermarkets and where I knew I would have a decent chance of buying some fresh fish.
Armed will a very well-behaved trolley and a short and simple list, I made my way to the fresh fish counter? No lubina (sea bass), No dorada (bream) not even a lonely mackerel, just gambas (langoustine and prawns) and some live Lobster. I considered the Lobster for a moment but then the thought of boiling him (or her) after freezing it in order to supposedly limit the pain endured when one boils a crustacean to death just further turned my stomach so I looked to the fridge freezer.
After much deliberation I chose ‘Panga.’ I’d heard of Panga and was sure that I had eaten it in Bali or Thailand but couldn’t quite remember its European taste equivalent. On first appearance it looked just like bacalao (cod) or even a chunky sole. In order to prepare it in the best way I set about ‘Googling’ for inspiration. I might add here that it was extremely cheap; around two Euros for two large boneless and skinless fillets.
Upon hitting ‘search’ I was inundated with returned documents. Not with delicious recipes for my Panga but a raft of news reports and articles condemning the fish as generally unfit for human consumption.
The first report entitled ‘Poisson ou Poison’ (fish or poison) was taken from a French site that talked of the current French love affair with Panga. Apparently this fish
has been recently introduced to the French market and shoppers are buying it ‘en-masse’ as if it were the last fish on earth.
Spanish supermarkets have been stocking it for years even though a recent European report fielded by the European Parliament confirmed that Spain had indeed found the fish to be contaminated, a report carried out by the Spanish Authorities.
Panga is industrially farmed in Vietnam along the Mekong River which is apparently one of the most polluted rivers in the world resulting in fish that contains high levels of bacteria; namely arsenic, industrial effluents and toxic and hazardous by-products, metal contaminants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and its metabolites (DDTs), chlordane-related compounds (CHLs), hexachlorocyclohexane isomers (HCHs), and hexachlorobenzene (HCB).
The food fed to Panga comes from southern America and hormones (which are injected into the female Pangas) come from China. The Panga diet consists of dead fish remnants and bones, dried and ground into flour, from Southern America, manioc (cassava) and residue from soy and grains. This allows the fish to grow four times faster than if the Panga were in their natural habitat.
Now I’m not sure if I believe this next claim but apparently Panga are injected with hormones derived from 'dehydrated urine taken from pregnant women'; a substance which is manufactured by a Chinese pharmaceutical company. It is understood that these hormones allow the female Panga to grow and produce eggs faster (one Panga can lay approximately 500,000 eggs at one time.)
As I closed the search, my nausea made an unwelcome comeback. “How on earth can food not be produced to some sort of global standard?”
My mind drifted to what I should cook for dinner and after feeling somewhat charitable by allowing the Lobster to live another day, I remembered that I had a couple of steaks in the freezer. Possibly I should prepare those steaks with a Roquefort sauce? Immediately I thought of mad cow disease and how Britain had possibly even ‘invented’ BSE through feeding cattle the remains of dead cows that it is thought lead to the infection.
I guess its cheese on toast then with lashings of mayonnaise? But then I remembered Britain’s political attempt to overturn the UK egg industry. The campaign spear-headed by Edwina Currie, (the then Health Minister) who provoked outrage with British farmers in 1988 by saying most of Britain's egg production is infected with the salmonella bacteria.
Why can't the Panga or any fish, meat or vegetable enjoy a a natural lifestyle and be paid for by people who appreciate the true value of natural food?
On that note, I think I’ll have a glass of Rioja, some olives and cheese. Well a couple of glasses a day is supposed to be good for your heart? Isn’t it?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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