FOOD SECURITY

How to secure global access to crucial omega-3 oils

Man in blue jacket eating fish while cats look at him with envy

Despite being vital for our health, consumption of omega-3 falls short of health recommendations in many parts of the world. A new study explores how global supply chains can be reorganized to optimize human consumption of omega-3. Photo: P. Schultz/Unsplash

Current supply of omega-3 cannot meet global demand but there are ways to deal with this, new study shows

Story highlights

  • Globally, an estimated 1.5 million deaths are attributed to low intake of omega-3 each year
  • Consumption falls short of health recommendations in many parts of the world
  • Reducing losses and inefficiencies in existing chains can boost overall production with as much as 50%

LOOK WITHIN EXISTING STRUCTURES: Global supply of omega-3 fails to meet global demand but ways to deal with the problem can be found in existing supply chains. This is the conclusion from a study published in Resources, Conservation & Recycling led by Alon Shepon from Tel Aviv University and co-authored by centre researchers Max Troell and Patrik Henriksson together with colleagues from Israel, Denmark, Norway and the US.

They believe more efficient seafood supply chains can boost access with as much as 50%.

Blue foods are often promoted as nutritious and for providing essential nutrients for humans. This is to a large extent due to their provision of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Fishmeal and fish oil are both rich in omega-3. Despite being vital to our health, consumption falls short of health recommendations in many parts of the world. Globally, an estimated 1.5 million deaths are attributed to low intake of omega-3 each year, and deficiency accounts for almost 10% of all diet-related health burdens.

This is partially a result of inefficient use of aquatic resources.

“As the majority of wild fish stocks already are fished at maximum sustainable levels opportunities for increasing omega-3 supply from capture fisheries is limited,” says Alon Shepon.

Great potential within aquaculture

In response, Shepon and colleagues explore how global supply chains can be reorganized to optimize human consumption of omega-3.

According to the authors, reducing losses and inefficiencies in the existing omega-3 supply chain can boost overall production.

Specifically, there is much to gain from changing the global aquaculture portfolio, Max Troell explains: “This means increasing farming of species with high omega-out-omega-in conversion, such as carps, catfish and other freshwater fish.”

Channelling more of the fish used for animal feeds towards direct human consumption will also result in more omega 3, as will reducing food waste and optimise use of by-products. Even partial adaptations of the measures presented has the potential to improve human nutrition.

Realizing full potential

These changes are also without accounting for new sources of omega-3 such as GM terrestrial crops which are projected to increase in the future.

“Efforts at production, postharvest, retailer, and household levels will have to work in unison to realize the full potential of providing nutritional security through increased omega-3 production and also for reducing the environmental impacts,” Patrik Henriksson concludes.

Read Sustainable optimization of global aquatic omega-3 supply chain could substantially narrow the nutrient gap

Topics: Food security
Published: 2022-03-22

Citation

Shepon, A., Makov, T., Hamilton, H.A., Müller, D.B., Gephart, J.A., Henriksson, P.J.G., Troell, M., Golden, C.D. 2022. Sustainable optimization of global aquatic omega-3 supply chain could substantially narrow the nutrient gap. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 181, June 2022, 106260, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2022.106260

Questions? Contact lead author Alon Shepon

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