The Mekong Delta in Vietnam is home to the world's most popular fish. Pangasius (also known as dory or catfish), drives a multi-billion dollar export industry. It's cheap and convenient to harvest, and its mass production has provided a livelihood for a record number of Vietnamese citizens. But that same process has also raised dire concerns among public health officials. The documentary Fish Wars attempts to uncover the veracity of these claims.
Food safety advocates claim that imported catfish from Asia are vulnerable to deeply polluted waters containing cancer-causing agents, and lax breeding and safety regulations by an overstressed and badly trained work force. With over 220,000 tons of pollution flooding its waters on an annual basis, the Mekong Delta region has been the subject of a great deal of these criticisms and concerns.
For their part, the Asian fish industry claims that there's no evidence that suggests these contaminants have made their way into the fish. The water might not be safe to drink, but it could be the ideal environment to grow nutrient-rich seafood.
The central thesis of the film is whether or not we can trust the systems that are in place to safeguard our health. To that end, the filmmakers visit the largest production factory in Vietnam to observe the safety precautions that have been set in place. The process appears to involve an arduous parade of sanitation, testing and other strict regulatory practices. Regardless, food scientists are concerned with the volume of antibiotics and hormones that are being pumped into the fish.
Pangasius advocates claim the smear campaign has originated from competition who are desperate to squash a cheaply produced and highly profitable product. Some go further to criticize the role that racism might play in the attempts to sabotage Vietnam's thriving fishing industry.
What ensues throughout the course of the film is a back-and-forth pro-and-con approach to a surprisingly complicated issue. In order to meet rising consumer demand, are these villages failing to meet the necessary global safety measures? Are these isolated incidents or systemic failures?
Fish Wars is an interesting exploration of whether these concerns for public safety are merely empty posturing and fear mongering, or if there is truly something fishy going on.