Farm Feeds

Fishing for Farm Feeds and Fertilizers
Greenpeace International

The explosion in demand for protein in response to rising populations from the mid-1950s took two forms which stimulated two different types of fisheries -- one providing food for direct human consumption, and a second source of demand for protein from increasingly industrialized pig and poultry farmers in the developed nations. Recently, a newer industry, aquaculture, has added to the demand for stock feed. These industries use high-protein artificial diets and one of the chief sources of protein is fish meal.

Of the total of approximately 83 million tons of fish produced annually from the marine environment, about 29 million tons of it is ground up (reduced) into fishmeal, which is fed to farmed animals like pigs and chickens and even other kinds of fish (such as shrimp and salmon grown in marine farms), or is converted to fertilizers and fishoil (used in a variety of consumer products such as margarine).

Over half the volume of fish caught in the North Sea today is reduced into fish meal. Elsewhere, in Thailand, for example, the amount of fish processed into animal feed increased by 25 per cent -- from 680,000 to 910,000 tons -- in the space of a decade -- most of it being fed to shrimp for high-priced export markets.

Peru and Chile are the big players in the world fishmeal market. Peru is king. Indeed, Peru is the second biggest fish producer in the world (behind China) with nearly eight-and-a-half-million-tons of fish caught in 1993, and ninety percent of its production is reduced to fishmeal for export. Peru reduced seven-and-a-half million tons of its 1993 fish catch into one-and-a-half million tons of fishmeal for export. A reduction ratio of five tons of captured fish to produce one ton of fishmeal is typical of the so-called "industrial fisheries" of the world.

The inefficiency in nutritional terms of the fish reduction industry is striking. Translated into a kilo of beef or chicken on dinner plates in Europe or America -- it may take as much as 45 kilos (100 pounds) of ground-up live fish to make enough animal feed to produce a half a kilo (one pound) of intensively farmed chicken or beef. From the view point of nutrition, these operations may actually reduce the overall fish food supplies. While reducing small fish to animal feed makes good sense to the feed manufacturer, it may be viewed as wasteful by low-income consumers who would like to have that fish for their own direct consumption. A developing country's fishery which supplies a twenty-five-ton-per-year trout farm in Europe with fishmeal could supply fish equivalent to the total annual nutritional needs of 50 people in the country of origin.