Blurring the Feed-Food Division...

The piece, authored by Dr Brett Glencross, was published in the May 2024 edition of International Aquafeed Magazine.

I recently came across an interesting paper which suggested that instead of eating beef, we should rather eat anchovies. The logic was simple. Anchovies are healthier for humans to eat than beef, being packed full of omega-3 and other important micronutrients. Anchovies are also more efficient to grow than beef (being cold blooded and produce a much smaller carbon footprint on kilo per kilo basis), and therefore would have less impact on planetary boundaries. But what the paper failed to capture is that food is not just simply about nutrition, it is also about enjoyment and culture.

The simple fact is that much of the world could survive on anchovies, but if given a choice they would rather eat beef, or chicken, or salmon. Choice, and the ability to produce food that adds not only nutrients, but also enjoyment to life is a key part of the food story. And this brings things to the crux of the issue, it is easy to sometimes get lost in the divide between what is food and what is feed. Yes, anchovies are packed full of important nutrients, but just because we use them mostly to make fishmeal, doesn’t mean we can keep those nutrients in our food-chain. In fact, we do, through indirect consumption.

Feed ingredients in effect are indirect food. This the reason why regulatory bodies put stringent regulations on things like contaminants in feed ingredients because these nutrient sources are only one-step removed from our direct food. So, if a choice is made to NOT consume something directly, like anchovies or wheat, but instead feed those nutrient sources to a salmon or a chicken respectively, then this often represents the next best option of using resources not desired in our food directly. Indeed, the more efficient the animal production system, the better the choice arguably as it represents more efficient transfer of those nutrients as well.

So, options like salmon and chicken being fed anchovies and wheat, represent much better options than feeding pigs and cattle those same feed ingredients for that same reason, and the reality is that throughout the world we still do use fishmeal (anchovies) and wheat in feeds for pigs and cattle respectively. In many cases the alternative option of wasting valuable fish resources or valuable grain resources, through bioenergy (bioethanol/biodiesel) or fertiliser, represents a much worse scenario. In those cases, the nutrients are completely lost from our feed-food-chain. So maybe next time you eat some salmon, chicken or even beef just remember you are helping connect the feed-food divide and ensuring we don’t waste valuable nutrients. And probably enjoying it more than what the alternative option might have been as well.