Science: ‘blue foods’ can provide better care for humanity

Algae, fish and shellfish: More food than water would avoid micronutrient deficiencies in billions of people.

According to researchers, fish and other foods from both fresh and saltwater can help provide more people with affordable micronutrients. About 166 million cases of micronutrient deficiencies could be avoided by 2030 if global production of seafood and freshwater foods – called “blue foods” – increased by 15.5 million tons (eight percent). It also offers an alternative to red and processed meat, which is often associated with certain diseases, the team led by Christopher Golden of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in Boston explains in the journal Nature. This study is one of five studies conducted for the international Blue Food Assessment (BFA) researchers initiative.

100 million people make money with it

According to the BFA, more than 2,500 species or groups of fish, shellfish, aquatic plants and algae are fished or farmed worldwide. Accordingly, it secures the livelihoods and incomes of more than 100 million people and feeds 1 billion people. Micronutrients are essential substances that a person must take with food and do not provide any energy. The team states that around 22 percent of children under the age of five worldwide are currently malnourished.

A third of the world’s population is affected

Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent among children in Africa and South Asia, and zinc deficiency is also a major problem in a number of countries. Deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, folic acid, and vitamins A, B12 and D lead to about one million premature deaths annually. It is estimated that nearly one-third of the world’s population does not consume at least one micronutrient in sufficient quantities.

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The scientists have now evaluated data from the Aquatic Food Composition Database (AFCD), which observed the content of hundreds of nutrients for more than 3,750 aquatic foods such as fish, crustaceans and algae. According to this, some are more nutritious than beef, goat, chicken and pork on average in terms of the nutrients evaluated. That is why tuna, herring, some types of shellfish and salmon such as salmon are very valuable.

Even those on low incomes will benefit from it

Although they already contribute to the healthy diet of billions of people, “blue foods” are still undervalued and reduced to protein and energy value, the researchers wrote. Golden’s team is convinced that an eight percent increase in sustainable aquatic food production through aquaculture and improved fisheries management could lower prices by a good quarter. This would make fish and seafood more accessible to low-income groups around the world. It also provides poorer countries with an opportunity to improve their diet without incurring the health risks of meat-intensive diets in richer countries.

Greenhouse gas balance is often more favorable too

Golden’s researchers also point out that aquatic foods often have a more favorable greenhouse gas balance than meat than beef and pork, but it is always important to take a look at the environmental, social and economic impacts. Among other things, the difference between wild catch and aquaculture can be significant.

The study, led by a team led by Jessica Gephardt of the American University in Washington, is specifically concerned with the sustainability of ‘blue food’. Studies of fisheries data and information from more than 1,600 farms formed the basis for breeding. According to the finding presented in Nature, hydroponic foods offer great potential for sustainable nutrition. Until now, it was the case that many algae, mussels and certain species of carp had only a limited impact on the environment. In the case of many other species – especially in aquaculture – there is still great untapped potential. The goal should always be to eat not only nutritious but also sustainable food, Gephardt emphasizes. The future production of aquatic food should be more geared towards reducing emissions and reducing resource consumption. Hence, possible measures include improved hunting methods when caught in the wild and better forage conversion in crops.

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According to a public study presented in “Nature Communications,” demand for aquatic food could nearly double by 2050 compared to 2015 levels. The sustainability of “blue food” will critically depend on the types of fish that are consumed and where and how they are produced, according to the analysis. (dpa)

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