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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 November 2006, 08:34 GMT
Prawn-peeling costing carbon
By Martin Cassidy
BBC Northern Ireland environment correspondent

Environmentalists have condemned plans by a seafood company to send prawns on a 12,000 mile round trip to Thailand to take advantage of low-cost labour to process the shellfish.

The prawns are caught off the County Down coast

Friends of the Earth have attacked the move and claim it is absurd that locally-caught prawns should be shipped half-way around the world only to be sent back for sale in the United Kingdom.

The campaign group's spokesperson, Lisa Fagan, claims that a half tonne of carbon dioxide emissions will result from every tonne of prawns shipped to the Far East for hand-peeling.

The company, though, says that prawns intended for hand-peeling are always matured for three weeks and that the greenhouse gas emission involved in shipping the prawns to Thailand would be roughly comparable with storing the product in freezers in the United Kingdom.

Young's Seafood adds that it is simply not economic to hand-peel prawns in the United Kingdom.

lisa fagan
Lisa Fagan is worried about carbon dioxide emissions

On the County Down coast it is an ordinary morning at the port of Kilkeel where, one by one, the boats file out through the narrow harbour mouth.

Northern Ireland's prawn fleet is off once again to trawl the muddy bottom of the Irish sea.

It is a short journey from the ocean bed to the deck of the trawler for the plump pink prawns.

But, for some of these prawns the journey to market as hand-peeled scampi could prove a lot longer.

Packed in ice, the first stage of the journey is back to port where they are landed at the busy quay-side fish markets.

Next, it's a lorry journey across to Scotland where the prawns are packed on a refrigerated container ready for shipment to the Far East.

Then begins the 12,000 mile round trip by sea to Thailand where the prawns are peeled by hand.

The prawns go on sale after a 12,000-mile round journey

Repacked into the chilled container, the scampi is then shipped all the way back to the United Kingdom where it is sold in supermarkets and catering outlets.

Friends of the Earth say they want food miles, and the carbon dioxide emissions which result, to be reduced through the introduction of green taxes.

The company shipping the prawns, though, says other environmental considerations also need to be taken into account.

Young's Seafood says that were the prawns to be peeled in the United Kingdom, the shells would have to be incinerated under health and safety legislation.

That, it points out, would also create emissions.

The company also says that in Thailand, the prawn shells can be recycled to produce chitin, which is used in alternative medicines.

Those arguments, though, cut little ice with environmentalists who claim that the recent Stern report underlined the long term cost of tackling greenhouse gases.

Martin Cassidy reports on the prawns' journey

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