In the face of growing concern over the environmental and health costs of land-based food production, it’s high time to put a spotlight on the role that the ocean and blue food can play in the wider food systems transformation.
Written by: Gunhild A Stordalen / WEF agenda 2020*
The EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems calls for a shift away from high-impact animal proteins, such as red meat, in order to healthily and sustainably feed the planet’s growing population. An increase in blue food consumption is a key part of a healthy food future – but we need much more clarity on how to achieve this while staying within the boundaries of what the planet can sustainably produce. Sustainably scaling blue food could unlock huge health, environmental and economic opportunities – including job creation and improved livelihoods. It also provides a unique chance to counter some of the most urgent challenges facing our ocean.
Blue food – that is, all edible marine and freshwater organisms, including fish, shellfish and algae, whether wild-caught or from aquaculture – is the cornerstone of around 3 billion people’s diets today, and will likely be a much more important part of all our diets tomorrow. It is a key source of protein and essential micronutrients and has been linked to a reduced risk of non-communicable diseases such as type-2 diabetes. Yet blue food is greatly under-utilized and under-researched as part of holistic food-based nutrition interventions. Increasing the access and availability of blue food, notably nutrient-rich small fish, to the more than 2 billion people currently lacking key micronutrients in their diets would help reverse the rising trend in global malnutrition, with significant social and economic benefits.
Land-based and aquatic food production systems are intrinsically interconnected: from highly polluted rivers and streams driving algal blooms in coastal areas to the fishmeal used in animal feeds. Governments, businesses, scientists, civil society and citizens need to act and develop solutions built on a deep understanding of these interconnections.
Blue food should be included in national food policies, recognizing its important role in food and nutrition security – contributing to livelihoods as well as human health. Ministries responsible for fisheries, health and trade should be working together to ensure that policies relating to blue food are aligned. The long-term sustainability of capture fisheries is critically dependent on better governance, including eliminating overfishing, illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, and harmful subsidies. The High Level Panel report finds that if well protected, capture fisheries could produce as much as 20% more catch compared to today.
The necessary transformation will require significant investment and cooperation across sectors and countries. Therefore, Friends of Ocean Action, together with EAT and other partners, are developing a multi-stakeholder Blue Food Coalition designed to stimulate innovation and change in policies and business practices related to aquatic food production.
While blue food represents an opportunity to increase food production for a growing population, aquatic systems are already being pushed beyond environmental limits. We must not repeat the errors of the green revolution, by purely focusing on increased calorific production without paying sufficient attention to environmental costs and human nutrition. Greater alignment and collaboration across science, civil society, public and private sectors are going to be essential factors in securing a thriving future for our blue planet, and its people.