Opinion: Beyond the farm
What does it really mean to claim sustainability?
By Mari-Len De Guzman
What does it really mean to claim sustainability? Reducing wild catch and increasing production of farmed fish and shellfish species – yes. Aquaculture production on land using recirculating aquaculture systems – for sure. Efficient consumption of precious resource such as water and energy – absolutely.
Sustainability is all of the above – and so much more. The concept transcends beyond the aquaculture operations and involves the entire supply chain, from eggs to harvest to transportation to packaging to store shelves to dining table. “Farm to table” is not just a marketing strategy; it is sustainable production. As consumers become increasingly aware of how their food is made, they will use their buying power to hold producers more accountable.
More than 80 percent of consumers across the globe feel strongly that companies should do their part in helping to improve the environment, according to the 2017 Conference Board Global Consumer Survey.
“Corporate responsibility and sustainability strategies may take different shapes around the world, but one thing is clear: Consumers are using their spending power to effect the change they want to see,” Nielsen stated in an article published in November 2018.
I recently attended Aquaculture 2019 in New Orleans, and the atmosphere throughout the entire conference is one of optimism. It is optimism for the industry and for the role it will play in solving the world’s food security challenges and the increasing demand for seafood, while helping save the environment. At the tradeshow, there are no shortage of products, equipment and technology that help shape aquaculture into more sustainable and ecologically friendly operations. The conference was filled with education sessions that have sustainability – in one form or another – on the agenda. From RAS and aquaponics presentations to alternative proteins and genetic engineering – these sessions were mostly standing room only, indicating an industry hungry for information and receptive to the idea of sustainable production.
As the aquaculture industry continues to be touted as a sustainable option, traceability of supply chains will become more evident and necessary. From the selection of egg suppliers all the way to the retailer’s labour practices, the entire supply chain needs to be traceable and accounted for. One only has to go back a few months to see numerous news reports of E. coli-contaminated vegetable products making it to department store shelves and putting consumers at risk. And these were products associated with familiar brands.
At his plenary presentation during Aquaculture 2019, Peter Cook, a professor at the University of Western Australia and a member of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s supervisory board, made a compelling case for international certification. He said companies often seek certification for the wrong reason: to command a premium price for their products. Except in rare cases, however, certified products are not necessarily able to get a better price on the market. But certification can do a lot more for a producer that can positively impact the bottom-line (read story on page 17).
International certification programs for aquaculture must include traceability of the supply chain, ensuring that the product’s journey from the farm to the store, and each company that handles it along the way, are part of a chain of custody system.
New technologies such as blockchain are enabling improvements in supply chain traceability. I suspect more of these types of technology and innovation will make their way to future aquaculture tradeshows.
It is not enough to claim the production facility uses recycled water or consumes less energy. Aquaculture farmers need to demonstrate that their responsibility for their products goes beyond the farm. It’s their company name that gets put on the labels, their brands that consumers recognize. It just makes business sense to ensure that what goes out of your tanks are produced, transported, packaged an sold in a sustainable, traceable manner.
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