The fishmeal and oil industry will be presenting new information about its impact on the environment, employment and the economy in the EU to a Public Hearing of the European Parliament in Brussels on April 23rd. It will also address concern about the ethics of feeding fishmeal to ruminant animals.
Speakers at the Hearing will include the responsible Ministers from the world’s two main exporting countries, Chile and Peru. They will respond to fears that production of meal and oil for feed for land animals and the rapidly expanding aquaculture sector depletes fish stocks or diverts fish from human consumption.
“There is little or no demand for human consumption for the great majority of the small bony fish caught to produce fishmeal and oil,” says Dr Stuart Barlow, Director General of the International Fishmeal and Oil Organisation (IFFO). “We will also be demonstrating to MEPs that the fishmeal route is at least three times more efficient than the alternative wild food chain in converting this type of fish into human food.
“The great majority of EU countries produce most of their fishmeal output, not from fish caught to produce oil and meal, but from the trimmings of the food fish processing sector. For example Spain produces 100% of its meal and oil trimmings, UK 85% and Ireland 60%. Instead of each tonne of trimmings costing £80 to dispose of as landfill or £125 by incineration, the fishmeal industry converts it into £60 to £100 worth of high protein animal feed. The EU exception is Denmark which produces fishmeal and oil mainly from fish caught for this purpose,” he says.
Dr Barlow will show that, despite the dramatic growth in aquaculture, fishmeal and fish oil production has not been stepped up in response, but has remained static. Projections suggest that by 2010 aquaculture will still be using less than half the fishmeal produced and about 80% of the fish oil, for which aquafeed is the main market. He says that, for the years after 2010, research already underway is expected to yield alternative ingredients for fish feed enabling reduced strategic use of fishmeal and oil.
Helge Korsager who holds senior office in both the European and international fishmeal producers’ organisations says: “The fishmeal industry does not want over-fishing or high by-catches. The industry wants a sustainable supply of raw material.
“It is the public, through politicians, who decide how we balance the different concepts of wealth and value – be they fish into the food chain or preservation of species and diversity in the marine environment – and establish the regulations. We will respect those rules.
“We are a dynamic industry – if there is sufficient human consumption demand for any of these fish to push the price above their value for fishmeal, we will surely switch markets,” says Mr Korsager.
The Fishmeal Information Network has produced a detailed new paper on the ethics of feeding fishmeal to ruminants, for distribution at the EP Hearing. This says that ruminants are adapted to consume animal protein and do so in wild or natural conditions. Fishmeal’s welfare, health and nutrition benefits are recognised by animal welfare and organic organisations. Where consumers are aware that productive grazing animals need supplementary feed, they express a preference for natural fishmeal over alternatives.
By making its case at the Hearing the fishmeal sector hopes to accelerate the lifting of the temporary and precautionary EU ban on the use of fishmeal in ruminant feed. However its central and longer-term aim is to establish fishmeal’s and fish oil’s credentials in a sustainable food chain – as a natural, functional, healthy feed which is a net contributor of protein.