I read an interesting story in Undercurrent News on the efforts of French supermarket chain Auchan to promote sustainable trout raised on sustainable feed from Skretting that is produced in part using insect larvae. Auchan is specifically highlighting that the fish are farm-raised and is attempting to educate the consumer on the importance of using sustainable ingredients in aquaculture. They want consumers to take the goal of relieving pressure on dwindling wild fish populations into consideration when making seafood purchasing decisions. Auchan also set up a dedicated consumer website explaining this: www. nourrialinsecte.com.
KnipBio applauds Auchan’s collaborative efforts! We hope it leads other retailers and industry leaders to adopt similar strategies to promote sustainable aquaculture from “feed to fork”. As Ben Franklin said, albeit in a different context: “We must all hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately.”
The challenge producers of alternatives to fishmeal and fish oil face is our products (at least for now) can be higher in cost than fishmeal and fish oil produced from forage fish. This should not be surprising- it is almost always cheaper to exploit ‘free’ natural resources than to create a complex production process that replaces them. The problem for the aquaculture industry is the supply of marine based resources is essentially capped. There are, after all, only so many forage fish in the ocean. To continue to grow, the industry must find sustainable alternatives.
As demand for alternatives increases and production efficiencies kick in, the price differential with fishmeal will close, like flat screen TVs or laptops. But what does an industry pioneer do in the meantime? Telling an aquaculture farm they should buy a more expensive product today because it will make the industry stronger tomorrow is a tough challenge- ‘I know we all need to support alternatives eventually because our industry can’t grow without them, but competition is tough and I need to keep my costs down now.’ The short term incentives are to keep doing what you have done in the past so you can stay competitive until a supply crisis disrupts the business model. A better solution would be for other supermarkets to follow Auchan’s lead and promote sustainably-raised farmed fish as a product that is good for you and good for the planet, so we can get to volume production of alternative proteins faster.
If the drive for sustainability is not going to be led by retailers educating consumers, who else could take the lead? Here’s a possibility: Governments might take the long view and start requiring a certain percentage of aquafeeds be produced sustainably in the same manner some set minimum ethanol inclusion requirements in gasoline and require utilities to ensure a portion of electricity is produced from non-carbon sources. Granted, this would lead to higher costs in the short run, but it would have the advantage of putting all fish farmers and feed producers on an even playing field and create demand security to foster greater innovation. This approach has helped create the ethanol industry that reduces US consumption of oil by more than 300 million barrels per year. It also supported the wind and solar industries until they reached the necessary economies of scale to compete with coal and other power plants.
A non-government alternative is to collaborate across the supply chain like the insect grower, feed formulator, and supermarket in the example above. The economics of a “fully loaded, expensive” ingredient included in this pilot probably translated to about an additional nickel per fillet, the exact amount many American states use for a bottle deposit fee to encourage recycling.
I can’t predict if supermarkets and feed companies will take the lead in this, or if governments will make long-term food security a priority. All we at KnipBio can do is focus relentlessly on producing better quality proteins at lower and lower prices. In the meantime, I ask you as a consumer - would you be willing to put down a $0.05 deposit for a better future?