Will it Fly
Avian proteins could reduce costs and help the industry grow but only if the market is ready
An industry and academic partnership exploring the use of avian proteins in salmon feed presented the findings of its initial investigations at a workshop this month. The broader aim of the initiative, launched last year, is to build resilience into protein supplies in Scotland, which is relatively constrained in its options compared to other salmon producing countries.
Leading the scientific team, Brett Glencross, research director of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, said the range of resources available to the feed sector included the old and reliable, such as marine ingredients, and the novel and sometimes contentious.
The industry has long diversified from traditional diets, with marine ingredients dropping from 80 per cent to around 30 per cent in salmon diets over the past 10 to 20 years, and more recently, completely fish-free feed has been developed.
The problem, said Glencross, is that the UK is heavily dependent on imported protein- of the 270,000 tonnes of fish feed used in the UK each year 220,000 tonnes was from non-UK fisheries sources.
Since most global feed commodities are traded in dollars, this makes the industry vulnerable to exchange rate uctuations, as witnessed with the pound’s plummet a er the Brexit vote last June. Feed prices, already the major operational cost for salmon farmers, are likely to rise as a result of a weak sterling.
Drawing on his own background in Australia, both as an academic and in the feed company Ridleys, Glencross suggested the solution was to produce more protein locally.
In Australia, we would deal with this by making our own,’ he said, explaining how Ridleys bought the country’s two biggest rendering plants so they could control the whole value chain.
Alternative proteins such as blood and feather meal are widely and openly used in Australia, and in North and South America, but since the BSE scandal of the 90s in Britain, there has been something of a cultural shi and the use of animal products in feed in much of Europe, although now legal, has been curtailed.
The workshop, held in Dunblane, near Stirling
University on March 2, heard from several of the partners involved in the alternative proteins project.
Feed company BioMar which joined forces with the retailer Morrisons, the University of Stirling, Saria, which processes animal by-products, and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) pointed out that the use of alternative raw materials is restricted by several factors, including a limited supply in some cases and perceived consumer acceptance.
Much of the day’s discussions centred around the latter issue, particularly in relation to avian protein.
Karolina Kwasek, product developer at BioMar, listed fish by-products, GM plants, land animal proteins, insects and ooplankton among the possible alternative ingredients for feed.
More use could be made of fishery by-products, but fishing eets lack the logistics and incentive to bring waste ashore. Fish farming has a better record in utilising trimmings from processing.
The current focus on insects as a feed ingredient could see global production increase, but public acceptance may be a problem, despite the fact that insects are a natural food for many fish species. A recent change in EU legislation removes some of the obstacles to the growth of this sector.
With land animal protein, such as poultry, the legislation is already in place for its use in fish feed, said Kwasek. Furthermore, tests have shown that there is no difference in health or performance of farmed salmon when these raw materials are introduced.
This is a safe and rich protein source considerable quantities are available; and it could reduce our reliance on imports of feed ingredients. If we could use these as ingredients, it could have an effect on feed costs.’
First, though, consumer attitudes in the UK have to be tested and a distinction drawn between the perceived risks of using avian protein and the real (if any) risks.
BioMar global R D manager Jorgen Holm said the Danish based company was routinely using animal protein in trout feeds in Denmark, so public perceptions clearly differ within Europe.
The big retailers are sensitive, of course, to their customers’ opinions and although they make decisions on their behalf, they are weary of scare stories in the mainstream press that may encourage the ‘yuk’ factor.
When the avian protein project was first mooted, one newspaper report was headlined Coming soon to a fish counter near you, the salmon that’s truly fowl.’
Ally Dingwall, Sainsbury’s aquaculture and fisheries manager, said the negative press was a problem and the more anti’ stories there are, the more they will drive perceptions over time, which could be hard to counter.
We can put as much information out there as possible but unless we direct consumers to it, it’s useless,’ he said.
Stirling’s Dave Little presented the results of a consumer survey to gauge perspectives on two alternative protein sources Calysta’s high tech bacterial based feed derived from methane gas, and poultry by-products.
More than 200 salmon consumers were shown the above newspaper headline and also a video of Calysta’s production process and then asked if they would eat salmon fed with both alternatives.
A majority said they would eat the Calysta fed fish, agreeing the method was environmentally sustainable in that it helps protect wild fish stocks. A large group said they wanted more information, however.
With poultry by-products, there were fewer in favour than for Calysta but, said Little, a majority – 58 per cent – said they would eat salmon fed with this protein.
The conclusion, at least from this small study, was that the public is not against alternative ingredients in principle. The survey also found that the country of provenance – Scotland in this case- was more important to consumers than what the fish were fed, and that presentation is crucial, as is fish welfare.
Interestingly, no one mentioned BSE, and nor was there any talk of the healthy omega-3 properties of farmed salmon, said Little.
‘I don’t think consumers are linking this [protein] at all with issues in the food chain despite having read the largely negative press.’
For those tiny proportion of consumers who do have concerns, there is a case for making more information available, but who would be most trusted to give that information
The next step would be to conduct a more indepth consumer survey but, Little believes, we are pushing at an open door’.
‘The fact that they [avian proteins] are in regular use in the rest of the world with no adverse effects is a good selling point.’
However, there was scepticism, not just from the retail sector, but also from some feed manufacturers.
iv Crampton, principal scientist at Ewos, now part of Cargill, defended the widespread use of soy protein concentrate in salmon feed.
‘Well sourced plant proteins are very high quality if you know which ones to choose. Any other alternative raw material has to compete with these very good plant ingredients,’ he said, citing Ewos research that showed it was easier to produce fish free feed with just plants than with land animals.
Ally Dingwall said there was a question of prioritisation in tackling the avian protein issue above other fields of research.
But those involved in the project said they did not want this to be ‘an opportunity for innovation lost’ and would be looking at ways to move it along preferably before Brexit sees European research funds drying up.
The project team was due to convene the following morning and re ect on progress so far.
Ideally, said Dave Little, avian protein also needs to be put to the test in trials on a Scottish salmon farm. The debate goes on.
The fact that they are in regular use in the rest of the world with no adverse effects is a good selling point”
Above: Professor Brett Glencross is leading the scientific investigation into alternative protein sources