After years of development, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) launched a new feed standard on Tuesday, 15 June, seeking to “tackle one of biggest threats to aquaculture’s reputation.”
Recognizing that “unsustainable and irresponsible practices across the aquaculture feed-supply chain risk undoing the positive impact of the farming industry,” ASC's new standards requires feed mills to meet a series of “strict environmental and social requirements; source ingredients from socially responsible suppliers; and use environmentally responsible raw materials.”
The standard addresses issues at both the supply chain and raw material levels, according to ASC, and its requirements on reporting of performance can enhance “the transparency of the industry, reward environmental sustainability, and assist future research into responsible feed.”
A 14-month “effective period” for the standard has been enacted, giving auditors, feed manufacturers, and suppliers time to acclimate themselves with the process and prepare for certification. Once the period concludes, the standard will take effect in autumn of 2022, when feed mills become eligible for certification, ASC said.
“Farms will then have 24 months to switch to ASC compliant feed in order to continue meeting the ASC farm standards,” the certifier noted.
ASC said the Netflix film “Seaspiracy” has inspired “much debate about the impact of the marine ingredients used by fish farms.”
“ASC’s feed standard makes clear that while certified mills must source increasing levels of environmentally sustainable ingredients, marine ingredients in fact make up a minority of feed ingredients, with around 75 percent of global aquafeed ingredients derived from agriculture – crops like soy, wheat, and rice. These have their own impacts, notably deforestation and land conversion, which are often overlooked in debates about the industry,” it said.
ASC CEO Chris Ninnes said responsibly-sourced aquaculture feed is necessary for feeding the world's increasing population.
“Aquaculture is already providing over half of the seafood consumed around the world, livelihoods to millions of people, and without it we will not be able to achieve food security for a growing global population with a low carbon footprint. But this positive impact will be undone unless the feed used by the industry is sourced responsibly. ASC has spent the last decade incentivizing producers to reduce the impacts of their farms, and now we’re spreading this approach to the wider supply chain,” Ninnes said. “Marine ingredients play an important role providing vital nutrients to farmed fish, but like everything they must be used and sourced responsibly. Rather than driving substitution of one type of ingredient with another, the ASC feed standard recognizes that all ingredients – marine and agricultural – can have benefits as well as impacts, and must be addressed holistically.”
Many seafood producers and feed manufacturers “are already taking this issue seriously,” Ninnes said, adding that with its new standard, ASC seeks to “reward them and incentivize others to follow suit to tackle what could be the biggest threat to the industry’s reputation.”
The ASC feed standard essentially extends the certifier’s approach to responsible aquaculture to aquafeed-producing feed mills and their ingredients suppliers, ASC said.
“These mills will be the facilities audited against the standard, but they and farms will be given time to ensure their supply chains meet ASC requirements. The standard will also incentivize more feed mills to work towards certification to meet growing demand from ASC farms,” ASC said.
Social responsibility factors into the new standard, ASC said, with independent auditors required to verify that feed mills are not using forced or child labor, are paying and treating their staffs fairly, and are not discriminating on any grounds.
“They must also be responsible neighbors, communicating proactively with their local communities,” ASC said. “Certified feed mills are required to conduct due diligence on their supply chains to adhere to these principles as well, ensuring an impact in areas where the risk of these issues are more prevalent.”
Additionally, feed mills certified under the standard must show they’re working to reduce aquaculture’s carbon footprint along the supply chain by recording and reporting their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. ASC said feed mills will also have to work to improve energy efficiency and use of renewables, and reduce their water usage.
An improvement model for marine ingredients is used by the standard, requiring feed mills "to source from more sustainable fisheries over time,” ASC said. ISEAL-member organizations the Marine Stewardship Council and MarinTrust “play a crucial role in this mechanism,” according to ASC.
“Intermediate steps are recognized fishery improvement projects [FIPs] leading-up to each scheme. Ultimately, the major volume of marine ingredients needs to be derived from MSC fisheries,” ASC said. “The model offers a unique opportunity for feed mills to work together with their fishmeal and fish oil suppliers to meet the increasing requirements over time.”
MSC Chief Executive Rupert Howes said the organization welcomes the ASC feed standard as “an incentive to drive progress in sustainable fishing.”
“Improving the sustainability of fishfeed [and] marine ingredients has a vital role to play in tackling overfishing across the globe, due to the large volume of wild-caught seafood required for aquaculture. We therefore welcome the launch of the ASC feed standard as an important step forward in improving the sustainability of this fast-growing seafood sector,” Howes said. “The launch of this new standard will give MSC-certified fisheries a preferred status with feed producers, many of which have ambitious objectives to only source certified sustainable marine raw materials in their feed. This should serve as a powerful incentive to other fisheries across the globe to improve their sustainability credentials, and in turn, help protect marine environments.”
Plant-based ingredients, too, are subject to requirements under the standard, ASC said.
“For plant-based ingredients, as with marine based, mills will have to record and report all ingredients that make up over one percent of a feed, and will need to take steps to ensure they have been sourced from supply chains with low-risk for illegal deforestation,” ASC said. “Additionally, they will have to assess the risk of high-risk and high-volume ingredients contributing towards deforestation or land conversion, and must commit and report publicly to transitioning to a supply chain free from these key negative impacts. This mechanism is based on internationally recognized steps by the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) to work towards ethical supply chains.”
Moving forward, ASC plans on providing additional documents for auditors and feed mills with guidance on the standard’s implementation.
“ASC is also working with mills to ensure these documents are appropriate in a practical setting, and looking at ways to make the audit process as efficient as possible,” the organization said. “During the currrent period, alongside this guidance workshops will be held for stakeholders to learn more and ask questions. ASC staff across the world will be reaching out to their stakeholders in various sectors to explain the benefits and requirements of the new standard, and how they could be impacted.”
Photo courtesy of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council