Industry reacts as UK report explores role retailers can play in sustainable aquaculture supply chains

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/sergeyryzhov
© GettyImages/sergeyryzhov

Related tags: Skretting, IFFO RS, Fishmeal, Tesco, Waitrose

Leading fish feed producer, Skretting, said it is actively working with several retailers to ensure the fish that reaches the market meets their sustainability criteria.

It was reacting to a report from Changing Markets Foundation and Feedback, Caught out: How UK retailers are tackling the use of wild fish in their aquaculture supply chains​,​ that claimed no UK supermarket chain has a clear target for reducing, and ultimately eliminating, whole wild-caught fish in feed.

“We invite other retailers to connect with us to discuss how we can supply a feed that positively contributes to their sustainability targets,”​ Robert van den Breemer, Skretting procurement director, told FeedNavigator.

The Changing Markets study identified Tesco as the leader in the UK - it came number one in an assessment of the top 10 UK retailers measured against criteria designed to assess how effectively they are protecting the health of the oceans through their farmed fish supply chain policies and practices.

“We found that seven out of ten retailers scored less than 30%, with ALDI at the bottom of the ranking with 12% and Waitrose on 22%. Tesco was the only retailer to score above 50%,” ​said the two organizations.

Ranking Changing Markets UK Retailers
© Changing Markets Foundation/Feedback

They were “encouraged by Tesco’s sustainability policies, which went beyond relying on certification as a proxy for sustainability, as well as by the retailer’s commitment to supporting the development of alternative feed ingredients for farmed fish, such as algal oil. We encourage Tesco, alongside all retailers, to set a target to eliminate wild-caught seafood ingredients in its aquaculture supply chains.”

Rapid action, according to that report, is needed to transition away from relying on wild fish, and to ensure the growth and profits of the booming farmed fish industry do not come at the expense of oceans – and the communities whose lives depend on them.

Some supermarkets including Tesco, Waitrose, M&S and Sainsbury’s are investing financial capital, or time and resources in sustainable alternative feed ingredients, found the publication. “This is a promising step in the right direction, but supermarkets must ensure a rigorous life-cycle approach is adopted to assess the sustainability of any alternative feed ingredient. “

Novel ingredient development

When it comes to fish and shrimp feed ingredients, van den Breemer said one of Skretting’s most fundamental long-term visions is to use materials that wouldn’t otherwise be consumed by society.

“The novel ingredients that we are developing right now fall into that bracket – there’s no direct competition for nutrients with existing human food chains; and there are no additional impacts in terms of arable land or water usage.”

The fish feed manufacturer, he continued, has dedicated significant resources to the development of these ingredients.  

“In 2019, we announced a further $2m investment in 2020 to novel ingredient R&D at Skretting Aquaculture Research Centre (ARC). In addition, we have stepped up procurement efforts, with a dedicated team, and concrete commitments to purchasing pilot volumes of ingredients to support these innovative suppliers. We are primed to meet the sustainability challenges head-on, with open dialogue with our value chain,”​ said the procurement lead.

He noted how, in another initiative related to the use of soy ingredients, Skretting’s parent company Nutreco, together with Grieg and Tesco, were the first three companies​ worldwide that pledged support to the Cerrado Conservation Mechanism in 2019. 

Reducing dependence on marine resources

Also weighing in on the Changing Markets report was Skretting’s sustainability manager, Trygve Berg Lea.

“We welcome fact-based criticism of our value chain, as we believe there are always ways we can improve. With wild fish catch at maximum capacity, there is certainly an increasing need for sustainably fed fish and shrimp to feed the growing population.

GettyImages-913764906

“Marine ingredients for feed need to be sustainably managed to ensure future populations can consume pelagic fish if they want to do so. We are in full support of sustainably managed marine ingredients for feed.”

Skretting has long recognized that fishmeal and fish oil are both finite resources that are shared across a range of users with increasing demands, from direct human consumption to aquaculture to pork and poultry production, said Berg Lea.

“Reducing dependence on marine resources has been a critical focus for Skretting for decades. We launched the nutritional concept MicroBalance after years of research in 2010, which was focused on maximizing ingredient flexibility. The research and nutritional understanding behind this concept have made it possible to substitute fishmeal with other raw materials in diets for several aquaculture species. In 2016, Skretting announced its breakthrough fishmeal-free feed for salmon, closely followed by a completely fish-free diet in 2017, after the introduction of novel algae-based ingredients that provided the formerly limiting essential long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA.”

Spotlight on third-party certification

Caught Out​ also was damning about the role third-party certification plays in wild and farmed seafood supply chains.

“Reacting to consumer demand, major retailers have embraced certification as a way of ensuring sustainability in wild- and farmed-seafood supply chains. However, the rigor and independence of seafood certification is increasingly called into question, and recent analyses of major schemes – including the MSC, ASC and IFFO – casts doubt over their effectiveness in curbing unsustainable fishing and seafood-farming practices.”

Changing Markets say significant concerns have been raised about IFFO RS certification. 

“In terms of governance, IFFO RS is closely linked to IFFO, the trade association representing FMFO producers. The technical director of IFFO sits on the governing body Committee of IFFO RS, as does the director of the world’s largest fishmeal producer, alongside other representatives from the feed ingredients and aquafeed sector and the salmon-farming industry. Several of the companies represented are also members of IFFO. Given the presence on the Board of so many players with strong vested interests in the drive to expand certification of FMFO, the chances for conflict of interest are high.”

Changing Markets proposed that retailers reduce their reliance on certification as a proxy for sustainability and develop their own “robust and transparent”​ standards for sustainably produced seafood, including farmed seafood. 

IFFO RS checks
IFFO RS fishmeal factory checks and balances 

Reacting to those allegations was Libby Woodhatch, executive chair, IFFO RS governing body:

“Changing Markets does not want to listen to us when we present them with facts. They have us completely muddled with IFFO. They don’t understand how third-party certification works, it is so regulated and robust - IFFO RS is ISO 17065 compliant and also compliant with the ISEAL codes. Changing Markets has suggested that retailers should be setting up their own standard, but the reason we were set up, originally, was because the retailers wanted something credible and third-party.”

Woodhatch is looking to engage more fully with Changing Markets, to have some level of dialogue with them, so that they understand exactly what IFFO RS does, and how it is a separate entity to the IFFO.

IFFO RS strives to interact with a raft of NGOs, to ensure wide recognition of all the efforts the industry has already made, she said. 

“Fishmeal is often a target in terms of reputation, and I think some of that is because people don’t fully understand what happens [in the value chain] and what our role is in that.”

Indeed, one of the objectives the IFFO RS has set itself between 2020 and 2025 relates to reputation and engagement with other stakeholders in the value chain, she said. This involves creating awareness around the IFFO RS certification of fishmeal plants and how that covers a range of aspects from responsible sourcing, to traceability to making sure there is no illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the supply chain, said Woodhatch.

“A lot of our work is done through our Chain of Custodycertification to ensure traceability ​- we have a new version coming out this summer.

Also, our Improver Program has really taken off – it is about bringing these fisheries that aren’t up to the standard, that won’t meet the criteria in the IFFO RS certification, bringing up to a point where they will eventually be at that level.”

And the fishmeal sector can drive change, in terms of greater sustainability, she added.

“The Improver Program isn’t about increasing the volumes of material for fishmeal. Ironically, it is about increasing the amount of material for direct human consumption in many fisheries, and then increasing the volume of by-product from that.”

What role can retailers play?

“Our standard is steered by a governing body committee and we have retailers that sit on that. Most of the retailers have us in their sourcing policies, they stipulate that the feed for the aquaculture products that they are buying needs to be IFFO RS certified or equivalent, so they can certainly help drive change, and that is why we are shifting our focus slightly and working with them.”

Last October, we reported on retailer, feed company and IFFO reaction to another Changing Markets Foundation report​You can read that story here​.

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1 comment

Mild surprise...

Posted by David Owsley,

Interesting stuff! That list of stores would surprise just about anyone who knows the UK set-up.

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