Info is key to increasing sustainability of aquafeed, says researcher
The more farmers and retailers know, the more they can ask from feed companies
More publicly available information and data on the production of feed ingredients would enable both fish farmers and retailers to move towards a more sustainable aquafeed supply chain, according to an expert who has studied the issue.
Aisla Jones travelled throughout Brazil, Norway, Singapore, Thailand, the UK and the United States after being awarded a scholarship by the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust, which aims to inspire passion in people and develop their potential to lead positive change in farming and food.
Jones is currently European partnership program director for the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), a US-registered nonprofit that operates globally to rebuild depleted fish stocks and reduce the environmental and social impacts of fishing and fish farming.
Co-op aquaculture manager
Prior to that the marine biology graduate was fisheries and aquaculture manager of the UK’s Co-op Group, and it was while doing that job that Jones realised that retailers can either be a help or a hinderance to improving the sustainability of seafood supply chains.
“An area I became particularly interested in through my experiences was aquaculture feed, however my questions list on the topic became far too extensive to answer during my day-to-day role,” she wrote in a 44-page report on her research, available here. This prompted her successful application to the Trust.
One of Jones’ two objectives was to gain a holistic understanding of the sustainability challenges and opportunities during production of aquaculture feed ingredients through supply chain visits, stakeholder interviews and existing literature.
The other was to identify opportunities for retailers and seafood supply chains to encourage best practice and support initiatives to lower the environmental impacts of aquaculture feed baskets.
Not enough questions
Visits and meetings were carried out with 16 stakeholders including feed ingredient producers, feed manufacturers, fish farmers, researchers, seafood processors, seafood companies and retailers.
Jones found that almost half of aquafeed stakeholders (46%) were not asked any questions about aquaculture feed ingredients by their customers. The most common queries were around the environmental impacts of marine ingredients and soy.
Environmental third-party certification scheme data were collated by 60% of supply chain stakeholders (excluding feed ingredient producers) for at least one of fishmeal/ fish oil (Marine Stewardship Council, Marin Trust), soy (ProTerra, RTRS) and palm oil (RSPO). Forty percent of interviewees collated data about ingredients beyond marine, soy and palm oil however, data were limited to the country of production. Two interviewees stated they collate data on third party aquaculture certification schemes e.g., Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), in order to assess feed ingredient sustainability rather than collating ingredient specific data.
None of the stakeholders interviewed had already established systems of collating data about workers involved in the production of feed ingredients. However, several stakeholders (30%) interviewed identified that they are currently exploring how to do this.
Lack of data
Jones found that the most common reasons cited that limit aquafeed stakeholders’ ability to improve feed sustainability were lack of data on feed ingredient production and its sustainability credentials followed by lack of investment by the supply chain into feed ingredient sustainability (cited by 43% and 36% of respondents respectively). Limited influence over other supply chain actors and lack of traceability in feed ingredient supply chains were each suggested by three (of 14) respondents.
Jones said there is widespread use of the term ‘sustainable’ in relation to feed, despite there being no agreed industry definition.
“It would be highly valuable for the industry to agree on a set of measures of carbon, environmental and social footprint to allow comparison between feed ingredients. Ideally these should be conducted by a third party, independent and transparent,” she recommended in the report.
Risk assesment tool
“More clear and consistent asks from aquaculture supply chains could encourage feed companies to prioritise feed sustainability when formulating feed,” said Jones in a press release. “An opportunity to support best practice and drive sustainability could be the creation of an independent holistic risk assessment tool focused on feed ingredients and in a format readily accessible to non-feed experts.
“Collaboratively addressing responsible sourcing of aquaculture feed ingredients could support the long-term sustainability and availability of feed ingredients for the aquaculture sector.”