Op-ed: IFFO is wrong on alternative feeds

Kevin Fitzsimmons is a professor in the department of soil, water, and environmental science at the University of Arizona, and chair of the F3 Challenge, a multi-stage contest to innovate and sell fish-free feed for the aquaculture industry.

In response to the Sept. 23 SeafoodSource article, “IFFO’s Johannessen: Use of marine ingredients in aquafeed ‘will not decline in the foreseeable future,’” we would like to provide an alternative perspective on the future of marine resources in aquafeed.

The reality is, there is not enough wild-caught fish to feed the world. According to a World Bank study, as of a decade ago, the ocean could not keep pace with demand, and fish catches are declining.

Moreover, marine ingredients are being rapidly replaced by novel ingredients that are free of marine animals and provide the same essential nutrients – proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals – farmed fish need, without sacrificing quality or the nutritional benefits to consumers.

Over 270 peer-reviewed studies published over the last few years confirm that it is entirely possible to substitute marine ingredients in a variety of species – from shrimp to yellowtail – without sacrificing growth, survival, nutritional quality, or taste for the final consumer. This confirms that fish, like all animals and plants, need nutrients, not ingredients.

And this is good news for the future of seafood and our planet.

These developments could not happen soon enough. According to an independent analysis by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, 43 percent of all fish caught for use in feed come from seven poorly managed fisheries, as acknowledged by IFFO, accounting for 3.3 million tons of fish reduced to fishmeal and fish oil. Likewise, less than 4 percent of the total catch volume of the reduction fisheries comes from stocks in very good condition.

IFFO claims that some of the novel ingredients have not been environmentally certified; however, they “certify” marine ingredient producers through a quasi in-house certification body. Credible certifications should be conducted by independent third parties. Not doing so is akin to having the fox guard the henhouse.

IFFO also asserts that trimmings and other processing waste will be a significant new supply of fishmeal. But industry insiders know that byproducts contain bones and scales that are high in phosphorus and often contain very low-quality meal.

In recent years, there has been an explosion in the supply and demand for alternative-ingredients with fermented soy, single-celled organisms, and a variety of plant and animal byproducts leading the way. Major corporations and large investment firms have taken notice and invested hundreds of millions of dollars, euros, and yen in these producers.

This year alone, several start-ups have graduated from seed funding, and have closed/are closing their Series A and are even moving to Series C. Earlier this month, the United Kingdom announced funding for an industrial consortia to accelerate U.K. industrial insect farming, and Ynsect raised USD 372 million (EUR 361.2 million) in its Series C to complete the world's largest insect farm. Recently, the insect ingredient supplier Protix recently received backing from Rabobank to continue scaling up, and just opened the world’s largest insect factory. Feeding insects with fish trimmings increases the omega-3 fatty acids content of the insect meal close to that of the original fish.

Fish oil alternatives are breaking into the pet food market, and even the human food market as Veramaris has received GRAS status in the United States and continues to increase production at its commercial facility in Nebraska. Almost 30 percent of the salmon farmed in Norway is now marketed as fish-oil free product.

These disrupting technologies are only going to grow in scale and drop in price. At the Recirculating Aquaculture Salmon Network conference in October 2020, a presentation by Skretting showed that insect meals are getting close to fishmeal in price. 

With all of the developments just this past year, it is clear that insisting that marine ingredients will always be required, underestimates the potential for human innovation to solve our global food and feed problems. We predict that the forage fish corporations will soon join the coal companies, travel agencies, and taxi fleets complaining about the “unfairness” of the situation and request even more government subsidies for their fading businesses. Aquaculture companies should act now to join the bandwagon before substitute, alternative ingredients consolidate, and before it is too late to catch and profit from this wave of innovation.

Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona Institute for Energy Solutions


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