The Garra rufa, also known as the reddish log sucker, is a minnow-sized fish from the rivers of the Middle East; but look out for it on a high street near you. For these sweet little creatures, also called doctor fish are being put to work to clean your feet.
At a chain of new walk-in high street foot spas clients are invited to put their feet in a tank of hundreds of these little fish which obligingly and with great delicacy rasp the dead skin off your feet with their toothless mouths. This is great for sufferers of psoriasis apparently, or people like me, who are just curious about this ‘new’ skin treatment.
It’s not new, of course, nothing is. Hundreds of species of cleaner fish ply their trade in oceans all over the world every day and make a good living from their symbiotic relationships with, sometimes, deadly predators.
I was persuaded to expose my feet to the Garra rufa by husband and stepson who watched intrigued as they nibbled at my feet. I enjoy encounters with my fellow-creatures so I thought yeah, why not? And as I sat there, with hundreds of these pretty little Cyprinidae nibbling away at my skin (it feels lovely by the way) I began to wonder about them.
I try not to consume anything that isn’t ethically produced (free range eggs and meat only), I try desperately not to consume products containing palm oil (which is damned hard), and I certainly don’t eat endangered species like cod or tuna. So how ethical is it to employ garra rufa as living exfoliators? I have no idea – and that troubles me. Where are these fish bred? How are they bred? What is the mortality rate in transit? Apart from human foot skin what else do these captive miniature carp eat? Do they nibble my skin because they aren’t they fed properly, or are we simply harnessing a natural behaviour? Why is this practice banned in the US? …over-zealous notions of hygiene? Yes, they may be just fish, but I think they deserve the same care as any other living thing.
Anyone know if I have put my foot in it?