Fishmeal sustainable: concerns about its long term availability are largely misplaced

Re-evaluate fishmeal in light of renewed market competitiveness, IFFO says
July 20, 2007

Fishmeal sustainable: concerns about its long term availability are largely misplaced, IFFO says


In the past few weeks, the world fishmeal market has witnessed a significant price correction reflecting a temporary situation of high stocks both in Peru, the world’s largest producer and China, the world’s largest consumer.


The situation has been aggravated by the effect of pig and shrimp diseases and flooding of fish ponds in China. This indirectly led the FOB Peru market to move slightly below the $850 - $1100/MT price range for so-called ‘Fair Average Quality’ (FAQ) fishmeal within which it has been trading over the past six months.


Although the fundamentals of the world fishmeal market remain balanced (especially for highest quality grades), the current price adjustment has led to renewed interest in this feed ingredient, particularly in view of the rising cost of competing vegetable proteins such as soybean meal.


Fishmeal remains the ideal diet in terms of amino acid and omega-3 content, nutrient balance, digestibility and health, according to the International Fishmeal and Fishoil Organization (IFFO), and the organization says the renewed competitiveness of fishmeal makes this a good time to re-evaluate its use to be sure of superior and low-risk performance in farmed aquatic and land animals.


Sustainable supplies

The majority of feed fisheries are already working closely with Government and scientists, and within FAO guidelines to protect stocks. Plant alternatives come with their own sustainability issues whereas replacing with animal by-products potentially raises consumer safety concerns.


Predictions that expansion of aquaculture was leading to an imminent shortage of fishmeal are not based on the facts. In practice global fishmeal supply has remained around six million tonnes pa apart from periodic changes due mainly to El Niño currents off South America. Fishmeal supplies are largely stable and sustainable.


Fishmeal usage

Fishmeal will remain an important ingredient in aquaculture and pig diets and in specialist first feeding and breeder diets. It’s well recognized that too much substitution may lead to unacceptable risks to productivity and health. Fishmeal is the ideal diet in terms of amino acid content, nutrient balance, digestibility and health.


There are some signs that reduced fishmeal inclusion is causing poor performance on some fish farms. It’s well known that there is not a straight line relationship between fishmeal content and growth – performance can suddenly fall off the edge of the ‘Risk Cliff’ as a particular amino acid becomes deficient.


The problem is these critical break points are often uncharted territory for formulators, so adequate fishmeal levels can be a cost-effective form of insurance, especially at current prices.


Omega-3 content

Less fishmeal and fishoil mean less omega-3 which has become the unique selling point for seafood. Remember that most fishmeal contains around 10% fish oil rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Apart from poor performance, there is a strategic worry if reduced inclusion of fishmeal and fish oil means that omega 3 levels in the final products fall too far – in which case fish farmers could no longer claim the special health benefits to consumers from eating farmed seafood.


European Parliament ruminant ban

The European Parliament has now adopted the Stevenson Report calling on the Commission and the Council to lift the ban on fishmeal in ruminant feed.


The ban was originally introduced due to the possibility of contamination with mammalian meat and bone meal, whereas the Stevenson Report also stressed that there was no scientific evidence to support a ban on fishmeal on the grounds that it may transmit Mad Cow Disease (ie BSE or other TSEs.)


The report also acknowledges that strict regulatory controls have ensured the safety of the food chain from contamination by dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs, and that fishmeal is rich in essential amino acids which provide health and welfare benefits to both humans and animals.


Fishmeal remains the specialty feed ingredient of choice for productivity, health and welfare for intensive aquatic and land animal livestock, IFFO reiterates. Concerns about its long term availability are largely misplaced.


There may be real risks of poor productivity with undue dietary substitution by other ingredients, quite apart from undermining the human health benefits of consuming fish and meat rich in omega-3.


At current price levels, the use of adequate fishmeal levels in feed is receiving renewed attention from farmers, feed manufacturers and food processors.