Should we swap red meat for fish?

Humans have eaten meat throughout history, but more recently meat consumption has exploded. Global meat production reached around 375 million tonnes in 2018, more than triple the amount produced in the world fifty years ago.

The production of food of animal origin has heavy environmental impacts, using approximately 2422 cubic gigameters of water per year. They also account for about 57% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food production, nearly double the emissions from plant-based foods, not to mention that livestock grazing takes up about 26% ice-free land on Earth.

Given its impact on climate change, many argue it’s time to cut back on red meat consumption and explore viable alternatives. For some meat lovers, seafood may be the perfect swap.

Seafood is a highly nutritious food source with relatively low climate impact. The authors of a new Nature The study analyzed the GHG emissions associated with the production of various seafood such as whitefish and crustaceans as well as their respective nutrient densities. They found that reducing red meat consumption and replacing it with certain seafood species can improve nutrition and reduce GHG emissions at the same time.

[Related: Eating sustainably may mean skipping the lobster for now.]

Seafood contains nutrients that other foods don’t, or only have in very low amounts, such as iodine, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, says Friederike Ziegler, author of the study and senior researcher at the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden. In terms of nutrition and greenhouse gas emissions, those with the best results or the lowest emissions by nutrient density were small pelagic species (such as anchovies, mackerel and herring), bivalves like mussels and oysters and salmonids, she adds.

Based on the study, large pelagics like yellowfin also had high nutrient density scores, but they produced more emissions than small pelagics, bivalves and salmonids. Meanwhile, most species of whitefish, like Atlantic cod, had lower GHG emissions per edible than larger pelagics, but they weren’t as nutritious.

“Regime change is a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Greg Keoleian, director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, who has no participated in the study. Switching from beef to other seafood can result in a big reduction in emissions, but sustainability is never so simple.

One of the main concerns in the transition from turf to surf is the sustainable production of each species of seafood. This depends on various factors such as the source and method of production as well as feed for aquaculture, he adds. -he.

In 1974, about 10 percent of fish stocks were being fished at biologically unsustainable levels, meaning they were being caught at a rate faster than the fish can recover their population. Since then, this percentage has tripled, to 31% in 2013 and 34% in 2020. Overfishing, the main driver of ocean wildlife population decline, can lead to the loss of breeding stock, disruption of natural communities and depletion. mass of many species. , thus harming the biodiversity of the oceans.

“Many stocks of small pelagic fish are currently overexploited and they play a vital role in aquatic ecosystems,” says Keoleian. “These fish are also heavily fished for fishmeal used in aquaculture. Many salmon stocks are also overfished and bivalve populations are declining due to climate change, so the sustainability of production in the face of increased demand could be a concern.

It is possible to increase the production and total consumption of small pelagic species by using under-exploited species. Additionally, using other species that are commonly found in fishmeal and fish oil in aquaculture feeds could be beneficial, says Ray Hilborn, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences at the University of Washington.

Salmon, on the other hand, is almost fully exploited. “Any hope for increased hatchery production is dubious because there appears to be competition for food in the North Pacific Ocean, so more hatcheries would likely not increase total production,” says Hilborn.

Policy makers play a major role in shaping sustainable seafood production. They affect the food system from different angles, ranging from dietary advice that influences people’s eating habits to fishing regulations or procedures of aquaculture licensing that shape the sustainability and volume of production in fisheries and aquaculture, says Ziegler.

For example, the Keep Finfish Free Act of 2019 sought to prohibit the issuance of licenses to conduct finfish aquaculture within the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone unless specifically authorized by Congress. The health and integrity of Alaska’s wild fish stocks must be protected and properly managed, otherwise industrial aquaculture operations could threaten the ecosystem with non-native and genetically modified fish species, according to the representative of the ‘Alaska, Don Young, who introduced the legislation.

[Related: How to eat sustainably without sacrificing your favorite foods.]

To increase seafood production without causing further environmental damage, all wild stocks must be managed sustainably, which means fishing within their biological limits and protecting the ecosystem on which they depend, says Ziegler. This maximizes harvest from capture fisheries.

Ensuring that harvested fish biomass is used for food and not wasted throughout the supply chain would also make a difference. A lot of fish processing waste is used in animal feed, although it is entirely possible to use more of these side streams to produce nutritious food or feed ingredients, she adds.

Meanwhile, designating marine protected areas (MPAs) can be effective in restoring ecosystems, Keoleian says. Labels informing consumers about sustainable seafood production can also influence consumer consumption, he adds. For example, Marine Stewardship Council certification is a way to show that a particular fishery meets established standards and best practices for sustainable fishing.

Overall, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint and eat red meat less frequently, try incorporating more sustainably sourced seafood into your diet. Not only will you be helping the planet, but you will also benefit from a more varied diet.

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