Go beyond FIFO measures in sustainable aquafeed
A recent article published in Fisheries Science and Aquaculture Reviews argues that aquatic food manufacturers must take into account a range of social, environmental and economic indicators when formulating sustainable foods. They explain that fish oil and fishmeal in fishing (FIFO) replacement measures are only part of the sustainability picture of aquafeed – focusing exclusively on these areas could undermine other environmental and social initiatives in the sector.
There are environmental tradeoffs when aquatic food manufacturers replace fish-based protein with other materials. Replacing fishmeal and fish oil with soybeans can have serious consequences for deforestation and land conversion. The creation of new food ingredients can generate high volumes of CO₂. In some cases, using fishmeal and fish oil from a sustainably managed fishery may be ‘greener’ than using a soybean or corn-based aquaculture feed. The aquafeed industry needs a larger lens to account for the environmental impacts of the various components of the feed. Taking a holistic view will help the sector achieve its sustainability goals.
How can the aquafeed industry become more sustainable?
The researchers identified four key areas where the aquaculture sector could focus sustainability efforts. They included immediate actions that would address environmental and food safety concerns, as well as longer-term strategies.
Food formulation and ingredient selection
Producers must ban the use of unapproved chemicals and feed additives – antibiotics, hormones, pigments, and non-protein compounds can provide short-term benefits, but undermine long-term sustainability goals. Formulators should also exclude unsustainable marine food ingredients in aquatic foods. This includes flours, oils, hydrolysates derived from overexploited wild fisheries, as well as ingredients from other marine animal and plant species. Formulators should also remove unsustainable and adulterated terrestrial food ingredients. Food ingredients that are linked to deforestation and land conversion should be kept away from aquaculture feed, and the use of heavily subsidized feed ingredients should also be phased out. For biosecurity purposes, formulators should prohibit re-feeding (feeding fish or processing waste from the same species).
By taking a broader view of feed formulation, the researchers recommend reducing the carbon footprint of aquatic feeds. This means reducing the use and amount of imported food ingredients while increasing the amount of locally available or recycled ingredients.
Food manufacturing and food quality
Improving oversight and transparency in this segment of the value chain would offer huge sustainability benefits. Ensuring that manufacturing plants are managed in accordance with national labor, environmental and quality standards would address many of the criticisms leveled at the aquaculture sector. Transparent labels on aquafeed would also be a major step forward.
In the long run, the researchers suggest that feed manufacturers minimize the use of plant sweeps and waste treatment in finished feeds. Setting up internal research and development teams to test new food additives, determine the apparent digestibility of nutrients and collect agricultural data would also be a boon in terms of sustainability. This type of research would provide crucial baseline data and ensure that factories produce high quality and efficient aquaculture feed.
On-farm feed use and its impacts
Researchers highlight data collection and farm stewardship as key ways to improve sustainability. By optimizing feed systems and feed use, farmers can reduce costs and address many environmental concerns arising from production. If farmers can regularly monitor parameters such as feed consumption, biomass, water quality, survival and feed efficiency, they will be able to identify problems and take immediate action. . Fish farmers should monitor nutrient waste levels during the rearing cycle to get a better idea of the environmental impact of their food.
When focusing specifically on feed, the researchers note that farmers should store aquatic feed in protected, cool, and well-ventilated conditions to ensure nutrient stability. They also recommend that farmers use feed on a first in, first out basis. Top dressing of aquafeeds with other ingredients such as antibiotics and growth promoters should be prohibited.
Fish quality and food safety
At this point in the value chain, the focus was on the impact of aquafeed on the finish quality of the fish. Aquaculture products must meet food safety and nutritional standards when they arrive on the market, especially if they are intended for human consumption. If aquaculture feeds hamper this part of the value chain, it undermines other sustainability efforts.
As a long-term strategy, the researchers suggest that aquatic food manufacturers maximize the use of farmed fish and shellfish. The reuse of trimmings and scraps for human consumption in fast food or ready meals would add value for producers and reduce food waste. Taking these steps would allow the aquafeed industry to become more efficient and help it follow a more sustainable course.