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Opinion: Feed alternatives should be 'as well as' not 'instead of'

Director General of IFFO emphasizes the need for a balanced approach to aquaculture feed and warns against giving the wrong impression to the market about the sustainability of marine ingredients.

This opinion piece was sent to IntraFish by Andrew Mallison, director general of the Marine Ingredients Organization, IFFO.

Thank you for the thought provoking series of articles on IntraFish recently covering the role of fishmeal and fish oil in aquaculture diets, and the alternatives available.

I appreciate the balance you have provided in showing the different aspects of the subject and wanted to pass on some thoughts about where we go from here.

Firstly, let’s state the givens:

1) Aquaculture is vital to future global food security.

2) To continue growing, aquaculture needs a good supply of quality feeds made from responsibly sourced ingredients.

3) There is not enough fishmeal and fish oil to maintain the levels of inclusion in feed used in the past. Supplies are finite and do not meet all demand.

4) Alternatives to fishmeal and fish oil are needed and are becoming increasingly available.

This last one might surprise you, coming from an organization dedicated to marine ingredients, but we believe in (1), (2) and (3) so must accept (4).

I am not going to complain about the unfortunate tendency for those selling the alternatives to confuse sustainability with continuity of supply.

Part I: Feed alternatives -- the trouble with fishmeal

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Sustainability, or lack of, is cited as a justification for moving away from marine ingredients to their proposed new solution, whereas the real issue is providing continuity of supply for the future.

As regards actual sustainability, the marine ingredients industry has an excellent record and can claim a far higher percentage of independently certified, responsibly produced sources than any of the alternatives. At the last count, over 40 percent of global production of marine ingredients is independently certified to be from responsible raw materials, safe, legal and traceable with more in the pipeline.

What I am going to ask is that we now move on from the idea that fishmeal and fish oil have to be automatically replaced.

Your series of articles did a great job of explaining the options available to, and needs of, the industry. However, the industry is not best served by the trend for the accepted need for more feed ingredients to somehow morph into a campaign to substitute instead of supplement.

A perfect example of this is the Fish Free Feed (F3) Challenge, a cash prize for producing a feed that has no marine ingredients, even if the marine ingredients are from recycled waste materials, or from a certified sustainable fishery without a human consumption market.

The F3 organizers would not allow us to attend a recent meeting to explain why marine ingredients could and should continue to be used and have not responded to our offer to work with them on a position for the future. Driving the debate towards 'either/or' does no-one any favors: Surely it should be 'as well as', not 'instead of'?

IFFO cautions evaluating fish dependency ratio in aquaculture assessments

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Consumers and retailers have little time to study and assess this debate. The danger here is that snappy-titled campaigns like F3 can give the wrong impression to the market -- retailers then put pressure on farmers and farmers put pressure on feed companies. The result is that the best ingredients from a nutritional point of view i.e. marine, are squeezed out, taking momentum away from existing projects to improve fishery management and recovery of waste fish trimmings.

After the Mad Cow / BSE disease scare of the 1990’s in Europe, I believe consumers have a preference for farmed animals to be fed on what they would eat in the wild. The phrase “You are what you eat” has been extended to “You are what you eat has eaten”.

There may be no scientific logic to this but the recent decision by Carrefour to de-list pangasius is a possible example of how retailers protect their brands from perception and emotion that is not always based on fact. Consumers have many choices of farmed protein and are easily spooked.

Fish has an enviable image of being healthy and wholesome. Although there is now more farmed fish than wild, the wild imagery still colors consumers’ minds. The farmed fish industry should be ready (and proud) to declare what has been used in the feed – some of the possible alternative ingredients would be more acceptable to consumers than others and the industry should take great care about which feed ingredients it chooses.

Opinion: Innovation key to providing sustainable fish feed solutions

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The marine ingredients industry also has to step up and earn its place in feed formulations. We need to offer better ingredient solutions for specialized diets e.g. hatchery or finishing, making the most of the volume available at the same time as trying to increase the sourcing of raw materials.

The board of IFFO has approved an increase in spending on product research and development projects for our members, in addition to existing work in fishery management. Although it is an intensely competitive area, marine ingredient producers want to work with feed companies to develop the products further and invest in the future.

IFFO’s role as the industry trade association is to provide a platform for producers and feed companies to agree where to put effort and resources.

We trust that the feed companies who make the decisions about formulation, and their customers who express preferences, will look at the bigger picture. Not just what is available but also what makes sense to the consumer and, to adapt another adage, that no prawns are thrown out with the pond water.

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Last week IntraFish ran an exclusive series of articles drilling down on the use of marine ingredients in the aquaculture industry; the problems with the industry's reliance on them, the challenges of substituting them and the viable alternatives on the table.

Catch up on the series here:

Part I: Feed alternatives - The trouble with fishmeal

Part II: Feed alternatives - How low should we go with marine ingredients?

Part III: Feed alternatives - Which replacements are really viable?

Part IV: Feed alternatives - The makings of an algae giant

Part V: Feed alternatives - Balancing the industry's approach to sustainable feed

Comments? Email rachel.mutter@intrafish.com or Tweet @intrafish

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