A group of researchers has proposed relaxing the consumption of wild fish and promoting lab-grown seafood. They believe this approach could be successful in easing pressure on global fishing.
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The continued increase in world population has dramatically increased the demand for food. Over the past two years, the world has witnessed the emergence of lab-grown chicken breasts and cultured beef burgers.
Typically, seafood, such as fish, shrimp, and crab, that is sold in the market is either farm-raised or wild-caught. Currently, several companies are developing cell-based shrimp, salmon, yellowtail, carp, crab and lobster. However, most of these products are in the taste testing stage and are not yet on the market.
Cell-based seafood development
Cell-based seafood production involves isolating muscle cells from fish, molluscs or crustaceans and, therefore, propagating them under ideal conditions inside a bioreactor. The cells are cultured on an edible scaffold; their structure and texture are designed similar to those of wild fish. The main goal of scientists was to develop cultured seafood products that could not be distinguished from wild fish, shrimp or crabs.
In the recent past, researchers have reported the presence of mercury, toxins, pathogens and plastic microparticles in wild seafood. Products developed using this technology would be safe for consumption with high nutritional values. As laboratory seafood was developed from fish/shrimp/crab cells, it contains all the allergens found in wild seafood.
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According to Sebastian Rakers, co-founder of Bluu Biosciences, the cell-based fish consists of ingredients similar to those found in conventionally produced fish. However, this technology does not require the slaughter of the fish; instead, real fish flesh can be produced from fish cell lines.
These cell lines are obtained by biopsy of live fish and the target fish is not killed in the process. At present, Bluu Biosciences has developed many cell lines from adult tissue biopsies and adopted new proprietary technologies and non-GMO immortalized cell lines for fish meat production.
Seafood industry and cell-cultured seafood technology
Seafood industries such as Nomad Foods (Europe’s largest frozen food company) and BlueNalu, a California-based sustainable food company, have focused on becoming the global leader in seafood product technology. sea from cell culture. The two companies collaborated to identify product opportunities and determine consumer insights into laboratory seafood in Europe.
From a global point of view, the partnership between these two companies is important because the implementation of this technology could reduce the problems of overfishing. This new technology would help promote one of the United Nations global sustainable development goals, namely the protection of life under water.
For any innovation, it is mandatory to assess its safety. For example, in agriculture (eg genetically modified organisms), scientists, regulators and industries have developed many regulations to ensure product safety. Similarly, in the development of seafood using culture-based technology, a group of experts work together to develop safety standards for newly developed foods.
Challenges Associated With Lab-Grown Seafood
One of the challenges faced by manufacturers relates to consumer uncertainty in readily accepting lab-grown fish over seafood produced by conventional methods. A group of scientists believe that this change could reduce the fishing of endangered species and, therefore, protect them from extinction. Therefore, cell-based seafood is extremely beneficial for fishing.
Another difficulty manufacturers face is making the newly developed food product cost-competitive. The high cost of cell-based seafood, i.e. significantly higher than that of wild or farmed fish, would play a key role in product selection.
By analyzing the consumer’s perspective on lab-grown meat replacing traditional meat, researchers observed that resemblance to real food plays an important role in consumer acceptance of a product.
Another group of scientists pointed out that forage species like anchovies are more at risk from overfishing; however, these species are not currently intended to be engineered via cellular methods in the laboratory as the financial returns are not significant.
Would you eat lab-grown fish?
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They further pointed out that although the tuna and salmon fisheries are relatively well managed; these species are more likely to be developed in the laboratory due to greater financial returns.
Additionally, thousands of species of fish are consumed by humans and the availability of diverse choices makes seafood appealing. Cellular seafood cannot replace them all and would not meet consumer expectations.
Can laboratory seafood become the future of the food industry?
Several seafood companies, i.e. those associated with the development of cell-based seafood, believe that this product could become one of the most sustainable and alternative sources of protein. As consumers become more aware and supportive of environmentally friendly approaches, this technology supports the mindset of using renewable energy and protecting wildlife.
Currently, more than eighty start-up companies are associated with the development of cultured meat and seafood. Scientists predict that cell-based seafood and meat will become competitive in the future and development costs will decrease with technological advancement and optimization of the production process. When the cost of the product is lower than the cost of conventionally produced seafood, consumer preferences could change significantly.
References and further reading
Anderson, E. and Li, J. (2021) Cultured Meat and Seafood – Background. [Online] Available at: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/cultivated-meat-seafood-background
Urdapilleta, L. (2021) Lab-grown fish: the next sustainable seafood revolution? [Online] Available at: https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2021/cell-cultured-seafood/729016
Halpern, SB et al. (2021) The long and narrow path for novel cell-based seafood to reduce fishing pressure for marine ecosystem recovery. Fishes and fisheries. 22(3). pages 652-664
Howell, M. (2021) Alt-seafood: cell-based seafood in the European Union. Online]Available at: https://thefishsite.com/articles/alternative-seafood-cell-based-seafood-in-the-european-union-bluu-biosciences-sebastian-rakers