Jose Villalon (Nutreco): “Sustainability deserves a transparent agenda …”

If you’ve been following recent reports, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the aquaculture industry is self-occupied, driven only by money and outright evil. However, I imagine what you’ve been reading and seeing is a much one-sighted image of the truth.

All food production systems have environmental impacts. In fact, current agricultural production occupies 37% of all the land area on this planet and consumes 70% of its freshwater! Imagine the additional impact of convincing our children to drink almond milk which has a water footprint at least 3x higher than that of dairy milk! Yes, almonds produce much less GHG than dairy but responsibly-produced dairy can not only reduce global herd numbers by 30% but also significantly increase the carbon-sink potential of its’ pastures.

The truth is that every food production system is neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Food production systems are complex and require a deeper level of discussion and understanding to address challenges within sustainability.

The point is that every food system has its dark side. The distinguishing feature for a healthy and sustainable future is if the industry is willing and able to work to reduce its dark side in a transparent and inclusive improvement program.

If we’re going to avoid the ethical tragedy of epidemic hunger in the next several decades and totally depleting our planet’s natural resources, we need to get serious about increasing food production in a responsible way. The operative word here is “responsible”. Please don’t forget it as you continue to read and formulate your judgement. Already today, over 800 million people go to sleep every night hungry. The problem is not going away and will only get worse if we don’t make responsible food production a priority today.

Responsible aquaculture is a viable tool in the tool box to address the challenge of feeding the growing population. In my 40-year career, I have watched how aquaculture has responded to the scrutiny of society over the last 15-years. As a young, emerging industry, it was focused on expansion with increasing impacts and often occupying shared societal space.

What changed?

The industry’s mindset. The industry recognized that it would never earn its social license to operate unless it embraced and addressed its dark side.

What did industry do?

It invited the NGO sector to join in exploring joint solutions with a corresponding commitment to implement those solutions.

What were some of the results?

Today, there are over six independent environmental/social standards which the industry can certify to, to demonstrate to consumers their environmental performance. The use/abuse of antibiotics has been significantly reduced and continues to decline. Today there are many “antibiotic-free” aquaculture products commercially available to the consumer. Feed efficiency has more than doubled to the point that aquaculture can be considered the most efficient user of feed by any other center-plate protein product. The use of wild fish to feed farmed fish is no longer the focal issue today as many diets contain no to low usage of fishmeal and replaced it with agricultural commodities and novel ingredients. Land conversion and social impacts are directly addressed by independently audited certification programs. All of these characteristics have been achieved and continue to be improved. The real difference is how this industry has embraced addressing the pending outstanding issues.

How is this industry different?

I don’t believe any other center-plate protein farming sector has come together in open, transparent and pre-competitive platforms to address the necessary continued improvements on environmental and social impacts as exemplified by the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI). This initiative’s membership reflects 50% of global farmed salmon production to address their ongoing dark side openly and often with NGO partnerships. Another platform to watch is the recently launched Sustainable Shrimp Partnership (SSP) which is mimicking the GSI.

So yes, not only do aquaculture products have the lowest GHG emissions on your grocers’ animal protein shelves today, but the way the industry continues to address and measurably reduce its’ environmental and social issues, which are important to us as inhabitants on this planet are unprecedented.

A lot has been written recently of the Tribeca Film Festival premier of Patagonia clothing empire’s produced documentary against farmed salmon. Unfortunately, I don’t live in an area with direct access to the movie. What I will say however; is that I’m certain, some is true, some is not -and to categorically campaign against this industry is a flagrantly irresponsible environmental act. Patagonia is a B Corp corporation and, as such, should be balanced in its approach to identify the bad, recognize the good and refrain from taking the easy and popular position of “throwing the baby out with the bath water” for the sake of our planet, our children and our grandchildren.

Jose Villalon, Corporate Sustainability Director Nutreco

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