The world's commercial fish stocks are depleted. Tonnes of food is thrown away each year. Meanwhile, farmed fish are often fed with imported wild-caught fish and soybeans.
Whilst the global population is increasing, so too is our consumption of seafood. Meanwhile, 90% of the world’s commercial fish stocks are depleted or overexploited. Farmed fish are often seen as an opportunity to provide people with seafood without increasing pressure on the world’s oceans. Today, about half of all seafood in the global market is farmed, but this is also not without challenges. Farmed fish is raised on feed that mainly consists of soybeans and wild-caught fish, often from different parts of the world. These are foods that could be eaten by humans without first taking a detour through fish. Global fish farming therefore contributes negatively to the global food supply.
”Our food should (preferably) not eat our food.”
– Madeleine Linins Mörner, Program Director Future Food, Axfoundation
1.3 million tonnes of food waste annually
Today’s food systems also have major problems with food waste and re-uptake of nutrients. Sweden imports cheap nutrition in the form of food, feed and fertilizers. Additionally, 1.3 million tonnes of food is thrown away annually from food manufacturers, shops, restaurants and households in Sweden. Today, food waste is often used in ways that are not resource efficient, as just under 40% goes to making biogas and biofertilizer for fields. The rest is used to for heating and electricity production. This linear food system contributes to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and also risks that nutrients leak into the Baltic Sea and contribute to the eutrophication problem.
The project Five tonnes of green fish on the counter has proven that it is possible to grow an environmentally friendly and rich tasting Swedish fish on a large scale, while at the same time making use of an unused raw material resource; food waste from industry. The result is Sweden’s first green rainbow trout.
Instead of imported soybeans and imported wild-caught fish, the green rainbow trouts were raised on a circular-based fish feed that consists of raw materials that are almost exclusively produced in Sweden, and that are not very attractive for human consumption. One of the main ingredients in the feed is insects – that have themselves been fed on organic waste in the form of shells, kernels and bread scraps from the food industry, that would otherwise have been discarded.
The fish feed also uses farmed mussels and sea urchins that have eaten phytoplankton. These ingredient thereby extract nutrients from the sea, and contribute to reducing eutrophication. The project has proven that it is possible to use waste on a large scale as a resource and grow seafood that contributes to reducing eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.
The circular-based feed consisted of raw materials that are almost exclusively produced in Sweden, and that are not very attractive for human consumption:
- Insects (larvae from black soldier flies and mealworm) raised on food waste.
- Swedish rapeseed oil.
- Fishmeal and fish oil from MSC-certified Baltic sprat that cannot be sold for human consumption, but is purified to remove PCBs and dioxins and retain food quality.
- Swedish wheat.
- Farmed mussels and sea urchins that have reduced eutrophication during their growth and purified the water around them by eating phytoplankton and converting them to protein.
- A concentrate from broad beans, a plant that’s useful in the crop rotation to improve the quality of arable land.
Organic waste in the form of shells, kernels and bread remains became food for insects, which in turn was processed into fish feed.
Unlike conventionally farmed fish, the Swedish green rainbow trout was bred on a circular-based feed that consisted of raw materials that are not attractive for human consumption.
The project was run by Axfoundation and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) from 2018 to 2022. In collaboration with actors from across the entire production and distribution chains, we built an infrastructure to convert vegetable residues into a quality raw protein material that can be used in animal feed.
The project’s four main objectives:
- To produce a circular-based feed, without adding any unwanted nutrients into the Baltic Sea’s drainage basin.
- To produce at least five tonnes of Swedish environmentally friendly fish of a high gastronomic quality.
- To support the development of circular-based feed materials.
- To support Swedish municipalities’ environmental work as part of circular food production.
The project produced four tonnes of green rainbow trout of high gastronomic quality, which was sold to consumers and to restaurants. The rainbow trout was farmed by Älvdalslax in an open aquaculture site, carefully selected as the location has water that requires more nutrients, which is exactly what fish farming helps with.
An evaluation of the circular-based feed indicated that the fish grows just as well, if not better, than the reference fish that was fed with a conventional feed. According to a taste evaluation carried out by some of Sweden’s top chefs, the rainbow trout tasted more like wild-caught fish than the reference fish that was fed with conventional feed.
The price on the circular-based feed during the fall of 2021 was 23 SEK/kg, compared to the price on the conventional feed which was 14-15 SEK/kg. The price calculations, however, were done before the war in Ukraine and during 2022, the price on conventional feed had increased by 35%, to around 19 SEK/kg. According to the project’s business modelling, the locally produced circular feed would not be affected by the global events to the same extent. When considering the planned investments from the industry, the circular-based feed will in time reach the same market price as the conventional feed.
The rainbow trout went on sale from November 2021 in selected Hemköp stores and at the Urban Deli, Fotograftiska, TAK and Compass Group restaurants in Stockholm.
Obstacles to scaling up
As a result of the project, parts of the infrastructure needed and knowledge required to be able to scale up the production of the circular-based feed further to replace unsustainable feed raw materials for more animal species, are now in place. However, a number of regulatory and commercial barriers hinders scaling up.
- Legislation is lagging behind
Since 2017, the EU allows for insects to be used in fish feed and since September 2021 it is also allowed to be used in feed for poultry and pigs. This has opened up new opportunities to produce sustainable feed by tapping unused resources in the form of certain food wastes and residual resources from forests and fields, via insects. The legislation, however, is lagging behind at both the national and EU level in terms of which residual resources may be used, making the process more difficult and expensive. For example, the large amount of food waste from households is not able to be used.
- Lack of consensus and a lack of circular mapping
In today’s linear food system, a number of unused resources are not returned to the food chain or are used inadequately, with economic and environmental consequences. These issues could be rectified through fully circular systems. There is, unfortunately, no mapping of exactly what the resource flows in the food industry are. There is also a lack of mapping of how and where these waste streams could be recycled as a resource.
- Linear food systems are too cheap
Today, it is costly for individual food producers and feed producers to break from linear systems and find circular solutions of their own. This contributes to the continuation of Sweden importing cheap raw materials such as soybeans produced in Brazil, at the expense of the Amazon rainforest, and wild-caught fish, that are caught using environmentally destructive methods, on the other side of the world.
The partners that collaborated on this project included: Axfoundation, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Axfood, Eskilstuna Strängnäs Energi och Miljö, Fazer, Fiskhallen Sorunda, Grönsakshallen Sorunda, Härnösand Energi & Miljö, Lantmännen, Marine Feed, Raisio, Restaurang- och hotellhögskolan Grythyttan vid Örebro universitet, RISE, Sweco, Tebrito, Vattenbrukscentrum Norr AB och Älvdalslax.
The project also included a number of associated partners, such as five land-based fish farms (Aquaagro, BIO Ras Ljusdal, Gårdsfisk, Peckas Naturodling och Smögenlax), the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, he Beijer Institute, the Swedish Board of Agriculture’s Aquaculture Office, Matfiskodlarna and the National Competence Centre for Aquaculture.
The project was partly funded by Sweden’s innovation agency, Vinnova, and made possible thanks to a close collaboration with the Swedish Cyclical Feed project, which was funded by the Kamprad Family Foundation for Entrepreneurship, Research & Charity.