Cargill leveraging scale to bring changes to fishmeal market

Published on
June 26, 2017

U.S. agricultural giant Cargill is taking advantage of its heft to pursue multiple avenues of growth for its aquafeed division, with a focus on the sector's increasing focus on sustainability.

The privately owned company, which is based in Minnesota but has operations worldwide, became a world leader in aquaculture feed and nutrition following the purchase of salmon feed specialist EWOS in 2015. In 2016, Cargill Aqua Nutrition (CQN) produced 1.74 million tons of aqua feed to support the production of salmon, tilapia, shrimp and other species in 18 countries around the world.  Salmon feed accounted for 54 percent of its production.

Earlier this month, the company released a report, "Healthy seafood for future generations,” that shows how the company has adopted and is pursuing ambitious environmental and social goals as part of a growth strategy that conveniently overlaps with is CSR (corporate social responsibility) goals.

According to CQN President Einar Wathne, the company has worked on extending sustainability practices from EWOS across the whole Cargill Aqua Nutrition business, with excellent results. The focus has been on increasing the efficiency of feed production and feed conversion, as well as formulating products and optimizing processes to leave the least possible environmental impacts over the whole value chain.

“As Cargill, we are now uniquely positioned to leverage our scale, global insights and relationships to take a lead in developing sustainable supply chains,” Wathne said. “We are also aligning our sustainability management and reporting to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Of prime importance to the company is the reduction of its dependency on forage fish, which it hopes to achieve through use of co-products from fisheries. CQN is one of the world’s largest users of upcycled protein and oil from fish trimmings, which provided 33 percent of total marine ingredients in 2016, up from 32 percent in 2013 and 21 percent in 2010. 

The company is now seeking to increase use of trimmings, which supports certification to Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standards. 

All EWOS brand salmon feed plants can supply feed that meets the certification requirements of the ASC, GLOBALG.A.P. and BAP, whilst its factories in Canada and Chile are certified to GLOBALG.A.P and BAP.

“Demand for certified aquaculture products is high and growing, particularly in Europe and North America, but also increasingly in other markets,” said Dave Robb, sustainability manager for CQN. “Consumers want to know more about their food, and third-party certification gives the assurance that aquaculture products live up to the expected high standards of food safety and sustainability, and bring transparency and trust to the supply chain.”

As part of its drive for sustainability, CQN requires that all marine materials come from fisheries adhering to FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The company has also initiated a policy of refusing any products derived from illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) sources. CQN is supporting a fishery improvement program (FIP) in Peru, and is committed to becoming a full member of the Seafood Task Force in Thailand to help tackle the social issues and slave labor found in parts of the sector in that country.

In 2016, 90 percent of the marine raw materials used were certified to the standards of the IFFO RS, a marine ingredients sustainability certification, and by 2025 Cargill has pledged to source all material to IFFO RS and Marine Stewardship Council standards.

The main forage fish species used in fishmeal and fish oil in 2016 were blue whiting (31 percent), anchovies (29 percent), sprats (11 percent), sardines (9 percent) and Gulf menhaden (8 percent), with minor quantities of capelin, Norway pout and sand eels making up the remainder. 

With limited volumes of marine-based ingredients now available, and the situation not likely to improve, CQN is continuing to seek fishmeal and fish oil replacements to enable the continued growth of aquaculture.  In 2016, fishmeal and fish oil accounted for 29.5 percent of raw materials, compared to 42.1 percent in 2010.

While fish oil remains the major source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in fish feed, CQN is undertaking trials with algae meals and oils, and Cargill is supporting an algae pilot facility at Technology Center Mongstad in Norway, which is using light and captured carbon dioxide to produce omega-3 fatty acids. 

Cargill is also involved in the development of a new type of genetically modified rapeseed (canola) oil, rich in EPA and DHA, which promotes sustainable nutrition. This is expected to be market-ready from 2020. According to Wathne, market acceptance for GMO ingredients is low in Europe, but introduction in other regions may change the supply and demand dynamics for fish oil and increase the overall availability of omega-3. 

As an alternative source of marine protein, Cargill has invested in a new venture with Calysta to produce Calysta’s FeedKind, a bacterial protein made from natural gas. While it cannot replace the oil, vitamins and minerals present in fishmeal, it is an attractive alternative. Material is already being produced at a pilot facility in the United Kingdom and will be available at scale from a plant in Memphis, Tennesse, in the U.S.A., from 2019. Around 200,000 tons per year of FeedKind is forecast. 

Soy material is increasingly sourced from responsible supply chains, and in 2016 more than 73 percent was deforestation-free and certified by Pro Terra, a not-for-profit organization that advances and promotes sustainability at all levels of the feed and food production.  All – 100 percent – soy material sourced for Norway and Scotland was ProTerra certified. Cargill continues to explore options in other countries as new certification schemes become available.

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