09 May Blue foods: opportunities and challenges
The United Nations 2030 Agenda emphasised the role of fisheries and aquaculture in contributing to food and nutrition security, while ensuring sustainable economic, social, and environmental development. “Blue foods”, a catch-all term for fish and seafood, are a valuable and potentially sustainable source of nutrition, particularly in coastal regions where they hold a traditional and cultural significance in the diet.
Recently, an article in Nature summarised the findings of The Blue Food Assessment (BFA) initiative. The BFA evaluated blue foods’ nutritional, environmental, economic, and social dimensions and identified four policy objectives for promoting their consumption sustainably and equitably. These include ensuring the supply of critical nutrients, providing healthy alternatives to terrestrial meat, reducing the environmental footprint of diets, and protecting blue foods’ contributions to nutrition, equitable economies, and livelihoods in the face of climate change.
The relevance of each objective for individual countries was also assessed. For instance, promoting culturally relevant blue foods, particularly among nutritionally vulnerable populations, could address vitamin B12 and omega-3 deficiencies in African and South American countries. For many nations of the Global North, consuming seafood with a low environmental impact could have health and environmental benefits.
The authors identified countries with high climate risk that will need to adapt their blue food systems. Moreover, promoting nutrition security through the consumption of fish needs to consider the nutrient density of the type of fish available in each region, as well as other associated issues. Notably, the practice of feeding fish a diet high in grains reduces the level of omega-3 fatty acids, thereby increasing omega-6 levels and creating a dietary imbalance.
This is especially problematic for individuals and populations who rely on fish as their primary source of specific nutrients, such as omega-3s. Furthermore, fish are vulnerable to environmental contamination by heavy metals, pesticides, and other pollutants, which can have adverse effects on both the health of fish and the people who consume them. Failing to consider these factors in policy initiatives can lead to ineffective interventions or unintended harm.
It is imperative to take a systems approach when promoting fish consumption for nutritional benefits. While fish can provide a nutritious and healthy food source, we must consider other factors that may impact their nutritional value and delivery.
This SNippet was written by Ejovi Abafe, a PhD fellow in the SNi team.
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels