GAA Committed to Promoting Best Practices in Animal Health and Welfare Amid Compassion In World Farming Campaign

The Global Aquaculture Alliance is fully committed to promoting best practices in animal health and welfare, both through the extensive adoption of its Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standards as well as through its pre-competitive education and advocacy work. Animal health and welfare is one of the five pillars of the industry-leading BAP third-party certification program, along with environmental responsibility, social accountability, food safety and traceability.

On Monday, July 13, Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) is launching a campaign targeting the animal welfare standards of five seafood certification programs, including BAP. GAA agrees that animal health and welfare is an important topic and has cooperated with CIWF, answering questionnaires and providing background on the animal welfare component of the BAP standards.

“Though we appreciate Compassion In World Farming’s suggestions for improvements in fish welfare,” said GAA President and Founder Dr. George Chamberlain, “care must be taken in imposing broad guidelines that might cause unintended consequences given the complexities of each species and region.”

For example, CIWF would like to see species specific maximum stocking densities, but such standards must account for the wide range of culture systems and management controls around the world. Consider shrimp farming, where highly sustainable intensive farms are being developed with advanced controls for animal health, water and sediment quality, feeding, and harvesting. While the densities are higher in these systems than in conventional ponds, stress, disease, and mortality are greatly reduced.

“GAA shares CIWF’s aspiration of adapting specific humane slaughter methods for each aquaculture species,” added Chamberlain. “In fact, we would broaden that aspiration to include various sizes of each species. However, this is a journey that requires time for sound science and commercial validation.”

At present, Issue 5.0 of the BAP Seafood Processing Standard requires animals to be rendered insensible prior to humane slaughter according to methods such as those recommended by the OIE-World Organisation for Animal Health. GAA, in collaboration with the Responsible Aquaculture Foundation and with support from the Open Philanthropy Fund, has begun by reviewing published literature, engaging research studies, developing online education modules, and awarding prizes to innovative leaders in this field. As new information is developed and validated, BAP standards are continually revised and updated.

Added Chamberlain, “GAA encourages CIWF to join its animal health and welfare journey by more active involvement in the BAP standards development and improvement process, including the public comment period that all BAP standards are required to undergo, as well as our pre-competitive discussions on animal health and welfare.”

BAP is the world’s largest and most comprehensive third-party aquaculture certification program, with standards encompassing environmental responsibility, social accountability, food safety, and animal health and welfare. Currently, there are more than 2,400 BAP-certified processing plants, farms, hatcheries and feed mills in 35 countries worldwide.

Notes about BAP Standards in CIWF’s Areas of Suggested Improvement

1. Stocking density: The BAP Program is lowering its stocking density limits for certain species and production methods. For example, salmon net pen farms are currently required to stock at a maximum of 2.5% fish to 97.5% water, but this ratio is being changed to 2.1% fish to 97.9% water, based on evidence from scientific studies in Scotland.

2. Harm to wildlife: BAP standards require the exclusion of predators from fish farms and encourage non-lethal methods of control. This ensures farms can readily coexist with local wildlife.

3. Enrichment: This topic is not yet well understood nor well developed as it applies to fish farms, so the BAP Program has no requirements at this stage. When evidence becomes available and commercial scale trials are conducted, the BAP program will evolve accordingly. Most fish farms provide conditions for uninterrupted shoaling, which is the dominant social behavior in fish.

4. Wild caught fish as feed: Through FIFO (fish in: fish out) ratio limits, BAP Standards set bounds for the amounts of wild fish in feeds and thus favour the use of alternative ingredients. At the same time, it is not considered a good objective to completely exclude fishmeal and fish oil from the diets of fish species that would normally consume fish in their natural diets. Appropriate nutrition is important because it directly impacts fish health and welfare.

5. Starvation of fish: BAP standards require farmers to set upper limits for fasting periods. These periods are needed prior to harvest to aid food safety and ensure the quality of finished products.

6. Slaughter: BAP standards require that fish are slaughtered humanely.

7. Antibiotics: The overuse of antibiotics is a major issue in animal farming, and it contributes to antibiotic resistance, a major threat to human healthFor this reason, BAP prohibits routine and prophylactic antibiotic use, and is moving (from 2021 onwards) to exclude the use of the antimicrobials that the WHO designates as critically important for human medicine.

In addition to the BAP program, GAA promotes best practices in animal health and welfare through its pre-competitive education and advocacy work. In May, GAA published the results of a study designed to identify and strengthen best practices for animal welfare in aquaculture. The completion of the study signified a milestone in a multi-phase project that began in December 2017 when GAA was awarded a $435,000 grant from the Open Philanthropy Project.

For the study, University of Stirling researchers reviewed existing best practices in animal welfare, focusing on salmon as a model species. Titled “Farmed Fish Welfare Practices: Salmon Farming as a Case Study,” the study looked at the factors that lead to poor animal welfare. Elements of the study’s findings will be used by GAA’s Standards Oversight Committee to strengthen the BAP standards as well as by GAA staff to develop online educational content and training for best practices in animal health and welfare, which will be shared with aquaculture and seafood professionals worldwide.

Additionally, challenges and opportunities in animal health and welfare are routinely addressed in GAA’s online magazine, the Global Aquaculture Advocate, and at GAA’s annual conference, GOAL (Global Outlook for Aquaculture Leadership), which is being held virtually this year from Oct. 6 to 8.

About GAA

the Global Aquaculture Alliance is an international, nonprofit trade association dedicated to advancing environmentally and socially responsible aquaculture. Through the development of its Best Aquaculture Practices certification standards, GAA has become the leading standards-setting organization for aquaculture seafood.