Plant-Based Food Companies Are Meeting a Need, But Are They Doing it at the Expense of Aquaculture?

The world’s appetite for healthy, lean protein sources is big, and, in the past few decades, aquaculture has largely stepped up to quench this appetite. And it’s done so while meeting many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It’s is highly resource efficient, especially when compared to terrestrial animal production. It makes a significant socioeconomic contribution in coastal and rural communities where economic opportunity tends to be limited. And it’s a rich source of protein containing all essential amino acids, in addition to essential fats, vitamins and minerals.

This appetite is so big that, in recent years, creative minds have seized this opportunity, and some amazing science has been applied to mimic fish protein grown from cells in laboratory conditions or replicated using vegetable protein. A June 12 Bloomberg articledocuments this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, as this Bloomberg article neatly demonstrates, these innovators have a tendency to cite misinformation and use scare tactics to justify their work and presumably attract investors. Oftentimes, the global aquaculture industry is portrayed as a polluter and destructor of the ecosystem. In my experience, the authors of these claims have never been to a fish farm or looked at a broad sample of what modern fish farms look like. It’s not perfect, but no food production system is. And what these authors conveniently exclude from their claims is that there’s a global sustained effort is to ensure that best practices are applied and standards are raised through third-party certification programs like the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices.

All is fair in love and war. But there are rules that are meant to prevent food companies from misleading consumers.

There are two main concerns here are: First, plain old-fashioned defamation — there is no justification to claims from, for example, a vegetable-based shrimp substitute company that shrimp farming causes 10 times more environmental damage than beef production. The 2019 EAT-Lancet Commission Report on Food, Planet and Healthwould suggest the opposite. I don’t think the veggie “shrimp” company understands that scaring consumers can just drive them away from all shrimp and toward that familiar piece of chicken.

Second, should a fish substitute that is plant-based be called a fish or shrimp? What if it is has been grown from a cell culture rather having a normal life cycle? GAA urges you to ask your legislators to consider these questions, so consumers can make informed choices.

We need more responsibly produced seafood, but we don’t need consumers to be confused and mislead.