Aquaculture: the solution to feed 9 billion people?

Last week, BioScience published an article based on the research of a group of researchers from the CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas), the Spanish High Council for Scientific Research.

They present their views on the potential of marine aquaculture to provide enough food for the growing world population. The authors of the report do not see fisheries as a significant option anymore, as the wild fish stocks are depleted, and the amount of time to replenish the stocks will be too long for fisheries to be able to meet the needs of the population. Aquaculture has gradually compensated the demand for fish that fisheries were not able to supply, and half of the seafood consumed today already originate from aquaculture. It is the fastest growing food supply activity and the projections for future growth are very strong. The researchers think that marine aquaculture could multiply its production by a factor 20 by 2050 and thus would play a major role in providing the world population with animal protein.

They bring up some interesting facts about agriculture and land animal farming. For instance, it takes 10 times more water per calorie to produce meat than it does to produce grains. Further, animal meat products represent only 3.5% of food production, but they consume 45% of the water used in agriculture. Considering demand for meat is expected to increase by 21% between 2005 and 2015, and will keep on increasing, this will only exacerbate this situation.

Another point that this group raises is the global nitrogen-use efficiency in animal productions. According to their sources, it is slightly more than 10% for land animals (5% for beef and 15% for pork), which makes their production a major source of nitrogen inputs to the environment. In contrast, marine animals have much greater nitrogen-use efficiency, at about 20% for shrimp and 30% for fish. Therefore, marine aquaculture culture releases two to three times less nitrogen to the environment than livestock production does.

From an environmental point of view, the idea of shifting the production of animal protein from the land where it uses scarce resources such as land and water, to the ocean where space and water are no limitations anymore sounds very sensible. From a nutritional point of view, replacing meat and dairy by seafood that is rich in healthy components such as omega-3 fatty acids is quite attractive, too.

They also notice that the land available for agriculture is shrinking, due to soil degradation and urbanism. Further, there is a growing scarcity of fresh water and increased competition for water as well. Therefore, activities on land do not offer the potential to grow all that much more food to feed the growing population. Even freshwater aquaculture faces these limitations. Freshwater aquaculture currently 57% of total aquaculture, therefore there is an untapped potential with marine aquaculture, as it does not use fresh water.

Of course, the main challenge to execute such a development of marine aquaculture production is to find the proper quality and quantity of feed. The researchers do not see the use of fishmeal and fish oil as an option anymore as they predict that the species used to make these products will not be able in sufficient quantities. Replacement by protein and oils from agriculture crops is an option for the short-term, but as aquaculture volumes would increase, the competition for these ingredients with meat production will make them too expensive, and for the reasons explained above, depending on land agriculture to feed marine species will face crop production limitations. Therefore, they prefer to envision a total new approach of aquaculture feeds, and recommend developing a new feed chain based on aquatic ingredients, such planktons, microalgae and seaweed. This approach makes sense, but the time lines to develop such a supply source and the cost of production of such an “aquatic” feed still need to be investigated. Several “seaweed farms” in production in China show interesting results and they seem to promise a strong potential of production for feed.

Another development that they expect is offshore aquaculture. Aquaculture operations located in coastal areas, although they are easier to access and generally in quieter waters, are very often located in zones where there are local issues to deal with, such as interaction with wild fish or recreational activities. Moving offshore can reduce these issues.

As you can see, developing the future of aquaculture is not simply a matter of growing fish in pens, but it requires a broader thinking that includes not only the oceans but agriculture on land, too. The future of food will require from us the ability to manage the whole planet!

Copyright 2010 – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

USDA launches nutritional web tools

This news is a beautiful confirmation of what I am announcing for the future (see my remarks in “Nutrition basics should be taught in school” and “The dining of the future“) about the need and the coming tools that will help people know more about agriculture, food and health, not only the educational tools, but also the software and/or website that will allow them to set up their own diet and make their own “educated” dining choices.

The article from Food Business News also mention what I have been telling all around and a number of comments that I have left on blogs from food organization and media such as Meatingplace that city people know very little about how food is produced and about their lack of understanding beyond the supermarket counter (read my comments in “Less controversy thanks to transparency” and in “Health and environment as growing drivers of food production“).

The dining of the future

With the current development of software and technology on the one hand, and all the concerns that consumer express about food, health and environment, on the other hand, I believe that it is only a matter of time before we all can have the information and tools we need to make our own eating (and nutritional) choices.

Can I eat this?

May I eat this?

Today, we have nutritional information on all food items labels, but few of us use it much. This could soon change.
As many among us have computers at home, we can expect software to come on the market, and maybe even already installed with the computer at purchase, that will allow us to determine and set up our own diets.
Already numerous websites have interactive programs telling you, depending on your weight and life style, how many calories you should eat per day and other websites help you calculate the nutritional value of your meal if you enter the quantities of your menu’s components.

In animal nutrition, optimization programs to compose the feed ration by entering the nutritional value of the different possible ingredients and set limits to the level of inclusion of some ingredients based on nutritional and technical parameters have been in use for many years. Last, but not least, these programs also include the price of the different ingredients, so that the best-balanced “meal” that meets the nutritional needs can be composed at the lowest cost possible.

Therefore, it is just a matter of time before we all can have at home a system that will take into account, or weight, our age, our level of physical activity, our health risks and calculate for us what our meals could be made of and how much we should eat, depending on which menu combination we would like to have for that particular meal or day. The nutritional information could be either from a database or directly transferable from the nutritional value label present on the food packaging we bought.

Following the same idea, I expect most restaurants to present their menus with thorough nutritional information on the side, in a similar way as food labels show, with indication of health benefits or restrictions. There also would be the possibility for a customer to enter their personal information to have the meal tailor-made for them, with probably the relevant price adjustment when needed. All of the above includes of course the drinks as well, as they definitely can contribute to the overall nutritional value of the meal.

Any action encouraging healthier eating will be supported by the government and by health insurances, which should help accelerate the introduction of such programs.

As environment and sustainability are among the main concerns of consumers today, I expect food items in the retail and the dishes on restaurant menus to include environmental information, similar to the ones mentioned and appearing on the label shown in my article “Environmental performance on food labels“. Today, a number of restaurants have already joined programs setup by MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) to indicate they serve only sustainable seafood. Seafood is probably just the first item that will be followed with similar information and programs for other food sources.

We have entered the era of information, and we will eat accordingly.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Organic foods not nutritionally superior. So what?

A bit of emotion, a bit of reasonA recent study from the UK concluded that organic foods are not nutritionally superior to “regular” foods. Of course, it did not take long for reactions to be published. The pro organics reject the protocol used and therefore the conclusions. The pro “industry” reacted satisfied. All of this is not surprising, and for a simple reason: people choose their foods greatly based on psychological reasons. Let’s face it the debate around organic food is largely about lifestyle and choices.

However, is the result of this survey a surprise? Not really, because in terms of nutritional value, the differences in production systems are not that different. When it comes to food safety, especially residues of chemicals, then it probably is a very different story.

What can affect the nutritional value of foods are the growth period and the timing of the harvest. Produce that grows fast and that is harvested before full ripeness contains relatively more water and therefore there can be a dilution of nutrients per kg of product. This is also true for meat products.

I do not believe that the real debate between” organic” and “industrial” should be so much about nutritional value as it should be about food safety. As consumers get more educated and have more choice, they will give the preference to something more natural and harmless, simply because it is common sense and the safe thing to do. On the other hand of course, agriculture must be in a position to offer affordable products. Organic foods are more expensive and this is what limits its market share to mostly well-off city residents.

If organic foods want to become the standard to feed people, it will have to work on its production costs and price. Retailers are playing a very important role in this, as they more and more dictate to suppliers how food should be produced. This is currently very obvious with seafood and the requirement set by supermarkets to buy only sustainable seafood.

My expectation for the future is that retailers will get more involved in agriculture and will impose on suppliers more restrictions on what kind of products they may use for crop treatment, more restrictions for better animal welfare. The market standards of the future will become “sustainable”, “natural” and “traceable”; not for emotional reasons, but for rational reasons. There will be pain to accept for producers to meet these requirements, and in the end the commercial negotiations will decide what the market price of “natural” foods will be.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

World Nutrition Forum: The future starts now

Here is an article reporting about the World Nutrition Forum held recently in Austria.

It presents the future of animal productions quite along the same lines as I think.

Efficiency, innovation and location will become the key components for the future.

Efficiency will act as a “natural selection” between the species farmed, as an increasing need for protein combined with a limited volume of feedstuffs and water will decide what productions can grow the most and which ones might not be able to do so. Poultry is definitely a winner thanks to its low feed conversion ratio and to its relatively high water use efficiency, pork is uncertain, and cattle will have the toughest time, although cattle is the only production that can transform cellulose into animal products, so the production systems will likely change and offer a different kind of future for beef.

Location of production will follow the location of the consumer markets. With a population increasing strongly, as well as their standard of living is improving, Asia will become a very active production area. This probably will also be the result of a need to reduce transport costs, as well financially as environmentally speaking.

Innovation, as I have mentioned in previous articles, will be a key driver for the future of animal feed and of animal productions. I am quite glad to read that the industry is fully aware of this need, and also that they see their future in “creating value” more than just “cutting costs”.

Although the conclusions of this forum are quite encouraging and positive, the next step might be the challenging one: how to turn these great ideas into systems that will work and will ensure the long term future of the production side as well as of the consumption side? It will all be in the proper planning and execution that this will succeed.

Animal feed: Innovation is the way to add value

Animal feed is one of the main costs in animal production. Therefore, any performance improvement that will come from the feed or from nutrition gives a competitive advantage.
Animal feedAs such, a feed mill is a rather simple process that feed producers know and master. To put it in simple terms, the recipe is prepared in a big kitchen blender. As a very standardized industrial process, the focus, for a given quality specification is to produce at the lowest cost possible. So, has feed become a commodity or are there ways of offering added value to farmers?
You can look at this at two levels: the feed itself and its usage.
Feed manufacturing itself can be incorporated in the production chain in different ways that will all have the same purpose: cutting cost. The feed company can be independent and market its own feed, or it can just produce as toll milling for a farmer or processing group, as this is already the case.
However, the true added value lies somewhere else: innovation. This plays already today and will increasingly be the strategic area of the future for feed companies. Innovation will continue to cover many areas, from biology, nutrition, to feed technology with the purposes of further improving feed efficiency, and provide raw materials that are more efficient.
In an age where availability of raw materials will become scarce, because of the competition between animal nutrition, human nutrition and possibly demand for biofuels, everything that will help saving and recycling resources will win. To achieve this, we will see new techniques to increase the digestibility of feed, to reduce the feed conversion ratio and create less manure, as well as improvement of the texture and other physical qualities of the feeds. We will see further innovations in the feed composition in order to have the animal use most of it, and for instance the use of enzymes will increase further. Other developments, such as a promising sesame seed extract that can help replicate omega-3 fatty acids in fish feed, can help reduce the dependence on scarce (and expensive) fish oil, and offer substitution possibilities with more types of vegetal oil. However, in this case fish would compete with other farm animals and humans for those oils, making them more expensive in the end. There is also the development of algae as a feedstuffs for farm animals. If successful will such algae be produced in ponds on in the sea, or will it  remain an incubator-based production? Who knows? But expect many new ideas to come to the market, as the fight for resources will become fiercer in the future.
Companies that will possess the latest scientific and technical knowledge, combined with a strong innovative capacity and the talent to locate and purchase the very best mix of raw materials will in fact own intellectual property. Nothing of the above is new, but the future changes will have more to do with the allocation of the different activities in the feed value chain itself. This intellectual property is what they might need to sell in the future, instead of a feed that customers do not always perceive as a differentiated product. Feed and nutrition might become two distinct products and maybe even distinct businesses. Could feed mills become franchises of nutrition and feed technology centers?

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Study: Organic food not more nutritional

Story Highlights:
* New study finds organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious
* The organics market in U.S. to exceed $25 billion in sales this year
* Organic farming is becoming more popular in countries like India

Here is the link to the CNN article: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/08/19/organic.cooking.pv/i…

London (CNN) — If you’ve ever found yourself in your local supermarket agonizing about whether the organic apples will be a more nutritional and greener choice than the cheaper non-organic ones, you’re probably not alone.
A new study reveals organic foods are not necessarily healthier than non-organic food1 of 2 Year on year the organic food market grows as consumers look to make a greener and — often thought — more nutritional choice. A report by the UK’s Soil Association revealed that consumers there spent a record $3.7 billion on organic products in 2006, that’s more than 20 percent growth on 2005 spending on organic goods including food, drinks and health and beauty products.
It’s a similar story in the U.S. where — according to the Organic Trade Association — supermarket chains like Whole Foods have helped the organic food and beverage market grow from around $1 billion in sales in 1990 to around $20 billion in 2007. Total sales for organic food and non-food products in the U.S. are expected to surpass $25 billion this year.
However, one possible spanner in the works for the organic sector could be the results of a new study by the University of Copenhagen which revealed that organic foods contained no more nutrients than non-organic foods grown with the use of pesticides.Researchers studied five different crops — carrots, kale, mature peas, apples and potatoes — which were cultivated both organically (without pesticides) and conventionally (with the use of pesticides) and found that there was no higher level of trace elements in the food grown organically.
Study leader Dr Susanne Bügel said: “No systematic differences between cultivation systems representing organic and conventional production methods were found across the five crops so the study does not support the belief that organically grown foodstuffs generally contain more major and trace elements than conventionally grown foodstuffs.
“This study — published in the latest edition of the Society of Chemical Industry’s (SCI) “Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture” — is the first to assess the nutritional value of organic fruit and vegetables. It should be noted that the study does not make conclusions about the comparative levels of pesticides or chemicals in conventionally and organically grown food or the health effects of consuming such chemicals.
The study results could be seen to support the idea that shopping organically is a lifestyle choice.
When the idea of organics being a lifestyle choice was floated in 2007 by then UK environment secretary David Miliband it drew fierce reaction from proponents of organic food, including the Soil Association, which represents organic producers.He told the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper in January 2007 that organic food represented a lifestyle choice consumers could make and suggested that the use of chemicals and pesticides in non-organic foods didn’t necessarily mean they were of inferior quality.So if organic foods aren’t necessarily more nutritional, are they better for the environment?According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, traditional agriculture accounts for around 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, and the nitrous oxide found in fertilizers contributes most to these emissions.
Even still, in 2006 the UK’s Manchester Business School assessed the environmental impacts of food production and consumption and concluded that there isn’t a clear cut answer to whether the environmental impact is greater on a trolley full of organic food compared to a trolley full of non-organic food.
Not so, was the response from the Soil Association. Do you believe organic food is more nutritional?
It countered that: “Overall, organic farming is better for tackling climate change than industrial agricultural methods. As well as lower average energy use, organic farming also avoids the very large nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer manufacture.”
“Additionally, organic farming builds up soil carbon, removing it from the atmosphere. Organic farming also supports more local food marketing, reducing food miles.”
While the jury might still be out about whether organic farming is, on the whole, better for the environment, there is little doubt that it’s a booming industry which is starting to catch on in other parts of the world.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that organic farming now accounts for around 4.1 million hectares in Asian countries like India, China and Russia.
In India where the Green Revolution in the 1940s helped transform it into an agricultural hub, organic farming is slowly expanding in specialist areas like tea and spices. Perhaps an indication of the potential of the organics market there is that the Prince of Wales is looking to expand his organic food business to the sub-continent by the end of 2008.
With a mandate of sustainability, The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) in India developed an organic farm in the small village of Supi in Uttarakhand in 2002. Here, local farmers are given the know-how and technical skills to develop their own organic enterprises.
“Local farmers are involved in cultivating oregano, parsley, thyme, peppermint, rosemary, rose geranium, artimisia, stevia, lemon grass, and several other herbal and medicinal plants,” TERI’s Madhu Singh Sirohi told CNN.
The herbs are commercially available to hotels and restaurants in the area and Hilton Hotel executive chef Kuntal Kumar was so impressed with the quality, he’s authored an organic cookbook which makes use of the herbs.
Chef Kumar told CNN that organic fruit and vegetables only make up around 14,000 tons of the two million tons of food produced by India’s agricultural industry, but that measures like the “Original Organics Cookbook” would help with wider awareness.
“Our approach is two pronged; firstly we are trying to build awareness about organic farming which is in its infancy in India and secondly we are trying to build awareness within the culinary industry in India.”
Kumar is sold on the superior taste, color and texture of the organic foods he uses in his kitchen, and he says the response from diners has been overwhelming.
“The response has been very positive; they are overwhelmed that we are going so close to nature and that their food is fresh from the farmland to the table.”
With increased consumer awareness perhaps it won’t be long before the choice between the organic and non-organic apples will be played out in markets across India