In a previous issue, we discussed the myths of aquaculture industry and this month issue uncovers the areas that are most concerning for consumers including transparency throughout the supply chain, sustainability, a focus on health with emphasis placed on immunity-boosting foods, as well as a rise in plant-based diets.
It has reported the pandemic has caused many consumer to seek foods for their health benefits with a specific emphasis on those to strengthen their immune system while additionally reporting that the expected 2020 trends of sustainability and plant-based eating took a backseat to COVID-19 but are predicted to reemerge in 2021.
Furthermore, transparency will be key. Consumers now expect food labels to provide greater transparency around the entire product life cycle. This is helping drive the demand for locally sourced products as consumers seek greater clarity on where the ingredients in food and beverages come from.
With these consumer priorities in mind, where can you meet the demand as an Aquaculture Processor?
As wild seafood is expected to reach its limit while the demand for seafood continues to grow, aquaculture is expected to be a primary source of seafood by 2030. As such, sustainable aquaculture practices are also growing in demand. Around the globe, through state and federal regulations, proven management practices, and proper siting of farms, the private public sector working hard to ensure that aquaculture is environmentally sustainable. While aquaculture processors must meet rigorous food safety and environmental standards and should closely monitored to ensure compliance, aqua farmers also follow food safety guidelines similar to land farmers and other seafood producers, including: “harvesting from approved waters, feed regulations, handling and processing under sanitary conditions, maintaining records, and environmental regulations for aquaculture address siting, water quality, ecosystem impacts, animal health, and many other issues.” In addition to following these regulations, aquaculture processors can also work to disprove some of the misconceptions surrounding aquaculture sustainability, such as the idea that aquaculture negatively impacts wild fish populations, marine habitats, and water quality, when in fact, when done responsibly, “aquaculture’s impact on wild fish and shellfish populations, marine habitats, and water quality is minimal. In fact, aquaculture can benefit the ecosystem—for example, oyster aquaculture creates habitat and enhances water quality.”
Speaking of misconceptions, many consumers believe farmed seafood isn’t healthy to eat or isn’t as healthy as wild seafood. Meeting consumer demand for improving their health requires aquaculture processors to not only practice sustainable farming that produces high quality and healthy seafood, but also to continue the conversation around the fact that aquaculture is just as healthy, if not healthier, than wild seafood, as reported by Aquaculture Alliance. For instance, not only are the diets of farmed seafood carefully monitored to ensure the fish are safe and healthy to consume but they are fed high protein feed pellets that provide the same omega-3 fatty acids that wild fish naturally consume. In fact, farmed fish may have higher levels of certain omega-3s depending on the composition of their specific feed, so verifying the health benefits of your product is crucial to appealing to health-seeking consumers.
A similar concern consumers have historically had regarding farmed fish is the use of antibiotics. However, due to the success of vaccines, antibiotics are rarely used and according to Aquaculture Alliance, “Fisheries use vaccinations to protect against major diseases that have historically caused problems for the farmed seafood industry. Other diseases can simply be prevented by following good management practices and using feed designed to protect the immune system.
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved three antibiotics and their use is heavily regulated. Fish treated with antibiotics are monitored to ensure there are no traces of the antibiotic left in the fish before they can be returned to the larger group.”
Finally, regarding the concerns of mercury levels in farmed fish, according to Fish Watch: “No farmed fish appear on the “avoid” list due to mercury.
These compounds enter and concentrate in organisms largely through what they eat. Just like feeds for other domestic animals, aquaculture feeds are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the respective state Departments of Agriculture, with advisement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
The FDA and state agencies conduct inspections and also collect and analyze feed and fish samples to help ensure adherence to strict state and federal requirements. Formulated feed ingredients used in aquaculture are regularly monitored to avoid possible contamination of feed with methyl mercury.
According to the FDA and EPA, studies show that for people eating the standard U.S. diet, the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids far outweigh the potential drawbacks of mercury toxicity due to fish consumption.”
AWARENESS IS THE KEY
When it comes to health and aquaculture, awareness is key in meeting consumer demand – particularly in making consumers aware that historical concerns surrounding farmed fish should not be of concern today.
That needed awareness of consumers understanding both the health benefits and sustainable practices of aquaculture can luckily be achieved through transparency, which consumers are already demanding, creating a win-win for aquaculture processors – be transparent about the positive health benefits of your product and the sustainable practices used to produce it and you’ve met all three demands seamlessly. According to Seafood Source, these demands are integrated as aquaculture industry leaders say that:
~ Transparency is key to global aquaculture sustainability~
And, working towards one goal can aid in the other as leaders have expressed how the lack of transparency has had negative impacts on the industry, stating, “a lack of disclosure of antibiotic use has had a negative effect on the public’s opinion of seafood. Since the late eighties, there has been a 99 percent reduction in the usage of antibiotics in Norwegian ocean-farmed salmon due to effective vaccines in the early stage of the salmon’s life cycle, but that reality has yet to seep into public knowledge.” Consumers are choosing to eat more fish because of its positive impact on their health and relatively small impact on the earth. But, consumers also want the fish to remain healthy as this translates to the small impact fish farming has on the earth because healthier fish mean:
- Better resistance to disease,
- More efficient use of feed,
- Less reliance on antibiotics.
Consumers have high expectations for where their fish come from and meeting their demands won’t convert into sales unless you show consumers your compliance. Enter: transparency. In order to be transparent, your product must be traceable. You can get support of digital options available in market where you can track your product, record quality test results, apply lot certifications, and more – all of which can be reported on – allowing you to partake in full transparency for your customers.