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Salmon and Chicken Footprint Stems Mostly From Feed: Study

CRISIS - Biosystem Viability by Martina Igini Global Commons Feb 14th 20232 mins
Salmon and Chicken Footprint Stems Mostly From Feed: Study

Researchers behind the new study investigating the main sources of salmon and chicken footprint suggest that investments in more sustainable feeding practices can help cut farming-related emissions. 

Salmon and chicken footprint derives mainly from the food these animals are reared on, a new study suggests. 

Following an analysis of the effects of farming on global emissions, spatial disturbance, nutrient pollution, and freshwater use, researchers concluded that feed accounts for at least 78% and 69% of the environmental pressure stemming from farmed salmon and broiler chickens, two of the largest animal-sourced food sectors.

The scientists behind the new study, published on Monday in the scientific journal Current Biology, suggest that the overlap of chicken- and salmon-related environmental pressures is owed to the fact that these animals are fed similar ingredients, such as fishmeal and fish oil.

The study also highlights the importance of finding alternative food production methods and integrating food policies as a key strategy to cut the sector’s environmental footprint and shift towards a more sustainable food system. This is even more important as experts expect the global demand for proteins to increase by about 60% by 2050, owing to the relentless human population growth.

“Food is one of the biggest environmental pressures to the planet and we’re all trying to be more conscious about what we’re eating,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Caitie Kuempel, said. “Anything that requires feed is going to have a higher environmental footprint than things that are not fed.” 

environmental impact of food and agriculture; feed environmental footprint

Source: Our World in Data

Over half of the world’s habitable land and 70% of global freshwater withdrawals are used for food production, which accounts for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Given the huge environmental impact of agriculture and livestock, finding more sustainable ways to grow our food is crucial in tackling climate change, water stress, and pollution while guaranteeing food security.

“Many […] studies have shown that being vegetarian and vegan are usually better options, and even things like shellfish that don’t have these feed ingredients have lower environmental pressures,” Kuempel said.

But going plant-based isn’t the only solution we have. Other sustainable food practices that have gained traction in recent years, especially regarding finding alternative protein sources, with insect farming being one of them. The relatively new industry is growing extremely rapidly and is expected to be worth US$10 billion by 2030

Insect farming consists in feeding food waste to larvae that then become feed for other animals. When coupled with renewable energy, the production process also has a significantly lower carbon footprint. Research suggests processing waste through insect bioconversion generates up to 90% less greenhouse gases compared to landfill or composting. Additionally, insect farming saves about 100 times the CO2 emissions and requires between 50% and 90% less land in comparison to conventional livestock, freeing up space for the cultivation of foods for human consumption. 

You might also like: ​​The Future of Farming: Can We Feed the World Without Destroying It?


About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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