By Suzi Dominy*
The GFLI aims to provide a freely accessible, transparent life cycle assessment (LCA) database of feed ingredients. This will allow for globally harmonized assessments and benchmarking of environmental footprint calculations of feed manufacturing. In addition, the technical concept of the GFLI is designed to be compliant with the Product Environmental Footprint project, coordinated by the European Commission and scheduled to be ready by summer 2016. Ruud Tijssens, president of the European feed manufacturers’ federation, FEFAC, observed that given the significant share of feed production in the environmental footprint of animal products, feed is also the key area where emission mitigation strategies can be developed.
In the aquafeed arena, when we hear the words ‘environmental responsibility’ and ‘sustainability”, our thoughts automatically turn to the familiar narrative of finite fishmeal and fish oil resources. Aquafeed companies are heavily invested in developing diets that utilize grains rather than marine oils and proteins. A boost to this already established trend is being delivered by a challenge with a prize of $128,025 to the first company that sells 100,000 tons of seafood-free aquaculture feed - or to the company that has sold the most seafood-free aquafeed by the time the challenge ends September 15, 2017. The crowd-funded F3 Fish-Free Feed Challenge, which will be judged by a committee consisting of Dr. Kevin Fitzsimmons of the University of Arizona, Corey Peet of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Dr. Michael Tlusty of the New England Aquarium, hopes to see the initiative lead to a new product category for consumers, the equivalent of ‘grass-fed seafood’.
While on the face of it the move from marine to land-based ingredients seems a logical progression towards ever more sustainable feed production, it is not that straight forward: increasing levels of plant based ingredients in aquafeeds brings its own challenges. There is of course a need for enzyme additions to help in digestion, attractants and palatants to get the animals to recognize the pellets as food and to eat it and formulation balancing and processing adjustments. Beyond these obvious factors, the use of field crops raises other issues: in an article in the Spring issue of our quarterly magazine, Aquafeed: Advances in Processing & Formulation, Dr. Markus Pahlow, from the University of Twente, The Netherlands, argues that while the use of feed with a large proportion of terrestrial-crop based ingredients may reduce the pressure on fisheries, it may also significantly increase the pressure on freshwater resources due to water consumption, and pollution from crop production in aquaculture. Furthermore, the competition with feed for humans and livestock, as well as with plant material for biofuels is aggravated.
While Dr. Pahlow’s point about water-footprint may be highly significant in terms of sustainability, and one that has been given little emphasis, his observations about pollution in crop production has the more immediate practical implications for feed producers and farmers. Pesticide use in crop production is starting to draw attention from aquaculture researchers. Dr. Monica Sanden, a Senior Scientist at the Norwegian research institute, NIFES, said while pesticide residues in Norwegian fish feed show a general downward trend with the decline in fish oil usage, plant feed ingredients can contain new pesticides not previously associated with aquaculture. Currently little is known about the effect of these pesticides on fish health and food safety. NIFES’s monitoring program for fish feed in Norway conducted on commission for the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, shows residues of chlorpyrifos and pirimiphos in fish feed at levels of concentration similar to that found in imported fruits. NIFES has previously found that chlorpyrifos can affect fat metabolism in Atlantic salmon. However, there is much to learn and NIFES hopes to find answers during the four-year of its research program.
Mycotoxin contamination is also a major consideration, particularly this year as the inconsistent weather patterns in 2015 have created high levels of mycotoxin contamination in the most important crop growing regions worldwide. Mycotoxins are highly toxic secondary metabolic products of molds that cause a toxic response (mycotoxicosis) when ingested by higher animals. They are generally produced by Fusarium, Aspergillus and Penicillium species and found on grains.
Feed ingredient company, Alltech, surveyed 100 North American corn samples from across the United States and Canada from September to November 2015. They found an average of 3.1 mycotoxins per sample. Ninety-seven percent of samples tested positive for at least one mycotoxin. Another feed additive company, Nutriad, turned up alarming levels of mycotoxins in its surveys in various European countries and in South America. For Poland, one of Europe’s biggest grain producers, and Spain, the company went so far as to say that this year’s maize crop should not be considered safe for inclusion into finished feed for any animal. The company also surveyed pet food in Brazil and concluded that pet food that contains grain should not be considered safe for cats and dogs. Grains and grain by- products such as maize, maize gluten meal, wheat, soya etc. are the most important sources of mycotoxins in pet food and are the same ingredients that are supplying an increasing proportion of aquatic diets. Their impact on aquatic species range from reduced weight gain and feed conversion ratio to disrupted spawning patterns, liver tumors, kidney damage and high mortality.
Fish eat fish
Not everyone is dumping fishmeal: Scottish salmon producer, Loch Duart, is one company that has taken a different approach: while keenly aware of its environmental responsibility, the company says the natural diet of a salmon is fish and fish must form the major part of its salmon diet. “The ideal fish for us, as it is high up the trophic scale, feeding on large plankton and small shrimps, and short-lived, is Icelandic capelin,” said managing director Alban Denton.
One advantage of Icelandic capelin is that the fishery is for human consumption but uses only the roe. The rest of the fish is waste. “Imagine our delight when our feed company, EWOS (Scotland), contacted us to say that Isfelag, an Icelandic fishing company based in the Westman Islands, was able to produce a fishmeal for us that ticks every box we could want. The meal, produced exclusively from capelin and exclusively for Loch Duart, will be called ‘Royal’,” said Denton.
Isfelag has a large proportion of the capelin quota; it processes the roe for human consumption in Japan, Russia and some European countries, and has been looking for a better use for the fish processing waste. CEO Stefan Fridriksson, believes that the partnership will show how relationships between salmon farmers and fishmeal providers can strengthen the sustainability of both industries.
Norwegian fish farmers Kvarøy and Selsøyvik are working with aquafeed company BioMar, importer Blue Circle Foods and Whole Foods Market, to create ‘In the Blue’, an innovative farmed aquafeed that conserves marine resources and reduces environmental contaminants in farmed salmon. The new feed has led to the first farmed salmon with a fish-in, fish-out ratio below 1-to-1, earning it a “Good Alternative” rating from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program. In the Blue is made with trimmings from wild-caught fish that are already bound for human consumption. The trimmings are pressed into oil that is cleaned to reduce environmental contaminants like heavy metals and PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls). Because environmental contaminants found in farmed fish are predominantly passed through feed ingredients, removing those substances from the oil keeps them out of salmon that end up on dinner plates.
The production method for this salmon feed was developed by connecting existing capabilities. The trimmings are sourced from established wild-caught seafood processors, and the oil-cleaning technology is already common in producing fish oil supplements. This salmon is sold at Whole Foods Market, which launched its farmed salmon standards in 2007 and has continued to strengthen the requirements every year since.
“We knew we’d have to make a significant investment of time and budget to create this custom feed for only two farms, but the risk was definitely worth it when we saw the difference this process could make for consumers, the industry and our planet,” said Vidar Gundersen, Group Sustainability Manager for BioMar.
Going forward, all stakeholders involved hope the model created for farmed salmon feed can become common practice, and eventually expand to other species. The sooner the market will support this kind of growth, the industry and consumers alike can expect this highest quality farmed seafood to become an even more affordable, sustainable protein option.
Suzi Dominy is the founding editor and publisher of aquafeed.com. She brings 25 years of experience in professional feed industry journalism and publishing. Before starting this company, she was co-publisher of the agri-food division of a major UK-based company, and editor of their major international feed magazine for 13 years.