This week I have been to an exhibition-event all about the current status of aquaculture. Exhibitors both from industries and academic backgrounds were present for two full on days of exchanges about the future of our food.
I have already discussed why aquaculture can be sustainable and why it should be improved to be done both sustainably and in an economically friendly way. I don't think many of you will need a reminder of the impacts that our diets can have on the environment, or why choosing to be semi-vegetarian is not entirely the most sustainable unless it's done by following some criteria..
Regardless, we will not stop to eat animal derived protein. I am not here to say whether we should or shouldn't, but I want to examine and understand whether it can be possible to make it truly 'sustainable' . and what points need to be addressed.
Firstly. it is already more sustainable to eat farmed fish compared to other forms of animal protein, requiring 'only' 2.3 kg of feed per kg of produce. Half of what required for chicken, a quarter of whar required for pig meat and less than a 10th of what is required for beef! The freshwater needed is also staggering less (8.3 L compared to 15.000-20.000 L for the other animal proteins) and this means the carbon footprint is also already much lower than beef, and still slighlty lower than chicken and pig.
So, what are the key things that we need to address to make it even better?
1) Producing enough through sustainable methods. Yes, because sustainable production usually means small scale - but small scale will not meet demand. I am sure that research is already moving in the right direction, with many European projects focusing exactly on that (for example the Horizon 2020 project in which many of my colleagues are involved, 'GAIN' - Green Aquaculture INtensification)
2) Improving the use of resources through optimisation. This means creating some kind of circularity and reuse of waste from the culturing. A great thing towards achieving this goal is aquaponic. In a nutshell - aquaponic involves the culturing of fish, and reuse of the nutrient rich water to grow plants for consumption (e.g. green leaves like lettuce). This has not yet well taken off in Europe, but some pilot projects are starting to take off, one of which, recently finished, was done by some colleagues so watch this space for more, and check their page here (project Bluegrass)
3) Improving feed! Yes, we already need less - but it's not all about quantity. We need to understand what are the implications of producing the feed. If we are fishing down the ocean, destroying the seabed, contributing to deforestation to farm soy or farming other animals - then you can also quickly see how this is not sustainable at all! Well, luckily some research is moving in that direction and plenty of feeds industries are experimenting with creating new sustianble formulas, alongside researchers that will look at the health but also researchers that valuate the impacts through life cycle analysis. And just to showcase even more some local research, go check the project SUSHIN...
4) Keeping the fish healthier naturally, reducing the use of vaccines and other farmaceuticals - not only bad for the consumers health but also emerging contaminants in the environment. Location chosing and farming methodology with the use of novel sensors can definitely help in that direction so I am hopeful we will one day lose the dependence on farmaceuticals ...
I hope to have convinced you at least in part of the fact that science and industry are working towards sustainability. Of course, profit cannot be entirely put on the side. So - here comes what you can do: read labels, demand transparency and demand 'sustainable'. Be prepared to pay a little bit more, at least in this transition phase. When demand will increase then price may also adjust (i think, i am not an economist but i guess that's how it works...)
Do you eat or avoid farmed food? Do you search for sustainable labels? Are you ever curious of how your fish is produced or caught? Let me know in the comments!
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