Aquafeed producers stress importance of shift toward sustainable supply chain

Published on
October 9, 2020

Major aquaculture operations and retail companies are setting high targets in the next decade to push the industry’s boundaries on sustainability as it relates to novel feed ingredients, energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon emissions, and worker voice and social equity.

In a virtual Global Outlook for Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference panel on Wednesday, sustainability heads from several companies came together to explain their guidelines, goals, and reasons for focusing on increasing sustainable practices in these key areas.

“As a major retailer, we feel like we have a responsibility to take a leadership role in ensuring the environmental sustainability of our business’ footprint and impact along the value chain,” Tesco Head of Environment Anna Turell said. “As a food industry, we must deliver healthy, sustainable, and accessible food to our growing global population. And in so doing must tackle systemic issues such as food waste, biological diversity, ecosystem degradation and inequality.”

Not only is changing business practices to save the environment and food waste moral imperatives – it’s also necessary to appeal to a customer-base that’s increasingly knowledgeable and concerned about its own environmental impact.

“Our customers expect the products they buy to be sustainable – that includes how the food they eat is produced or grown,” said Turell. “They do not want to be complicit in the destruction of our natural world.”

While there are plenty of areas for improvement in terms of reducing the environmental impact of aquaculture throughout the supply chain, one of the key factors that must be addressed is the impact of feed production in the industry.

Pilar Cruz, the president of Cargill Aqua Nutrition, spoke on the importance of sourcing feed ingredients from sustainable sources. With 19 dedicated aquafeed mills in 12 countries, Cargill Aqua Nutrition is one of the largest aqua feed companies in the world, producing feed for key species like salmon, shrimp, and tilapia. According to Cruz, aquaculture production will need to more than double between 2010 and 2050 to meet growing demand for seafood.

“Our industry is part of the solution to feed the world safely, responsibly and sustainably,” said Cruz. “Aquafeed has many complex problems and there are many potential sustainability impacts associated with them.”

Cruz suggested that most sustainability issues in aquafeed could be solved synergistically – that large companies should take on the duty of working with small operations down the supply chain to ensure the sustainable harvesting of raw materials.

"The carbon footprint of food systems has received a lot of public attention in the last year, thanks to improving efficiencies and sourcing from sustainably ... this is why collaboration is so important for all of us,” she said.

In 2019, Cargill increased the use of novel ingredients such as micro algae and insect meal to replace more traditional feeds in small volumes, "but production is growing as is the market," she said.

Retailers have played an important role in sustainability over time by promoting and purchasing more sustainable products, but many are now looking to play a larger role in encouraging chains lower in the supply chain.

Global feed manufacturer Ocean Harvest Technology’s CEO Graham Eliis stressed the importance of approaching sustainability on a unified front, committing to investing in improved, sustainable sources so farmers are able to shift their business practices without taking on so much of the risk. It’s not enough to produce a single, sustainable feed product – the entire industry must agree to a shift.

The issue with an industry-wide shift of course is the time it takes a business to make serious change.

“Innovation should be measured in decades, not years,” said Eliis. “New ingredients may not find a niche immediately, even if they deliver outstanding benefits in mortality, if they prevent societal health benefits in terms of reducing antibiotic misuse, or even if they correct an environmental disaster in progress.”

An industry shift toward sustainable feed is an expensive proposition as well, but one the presenters believe the industry could afford if efforts are scaled along with the mainstreaming of sustainability among consumers.  

Photo courtesy of Fabien Monteil/Shutterstock

Reporting from Portland, Oregon

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