The feed revolution continues

Feature article / opinion

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg recently referred to salmon as “Norway’s IKEA”, because people buy and eat Norwegian salmon all over the world. In the same way as IKEA needs materials to build furniture, salmon need a feed on which they can grow. The feeds that are currently in use consist principally of raw materials from plants. A revolution in feed has been under way for the past 15 years. And it’s far from over.

This article was last updated more than two years ago.

The contents of feed used to come primarily from the sea, whereas now they come primarily from the land. Seventy percent of the raw materials in feed are now from the plant kingdom. Most of these raw materials, such as soy protein concentrate, maize protein and rapeseed oil, have been included in salmon feeds for the past 15 years. Knowledge within the feed industry and the ingredient industry is developing in a way that signals a new era. However, some challenges related to the quality of the fish feed remain.

At Nofima, we are collaborating with feed and ingredient manufacturers to develop new high-quality feeds, but we still know too little about, for example, how the above-mentioned raw materials behave during the feed production process itself, and we see that 20-30% of the feed remains undigested by the fish. We can do something about the latter fact if research into the processing of raw materials keeps step with the introduction of new raw materials into the feed. It is clear that processing more closely adapted to the raw materials is the key to preventing the loss of valuable nutrients at all stages of fish production.

These are challenges facing the complete feed industry, and they require independent research. Only then can we get ahead of such challenges as new raw materials from plants, crustaceans, shellfish, cod-ends, insects, algae, seaweed and yeast are increasingly introduced into the feeds.

Imagine baking bread for a large group of people and finding that there is a shortage of flour, forcing you to use soya flour or algae meal instead. You would need to know the properties of these new ingredients in order to avoid the risks of making many test bakes, that the bread turns out crumbly, tastes unpleasant or gives the guests stomach upsets.

The same is true for new ingredients of feed. They also behave differently and introduce unknown properties, which brings challenges to the production of feed. Batches of feed have been returned to the manufacturer because the pellet does not have the correct properties. Too hard a pellet leads to poor digestion in the fish, while pellets that are too brittle lead to large losses during transport and lumps forming in feed delivery systems. The manufacture of feed involves exposing a mixture of ingredients to high temperature, high pressure and vigorous mechanical forces. An increased understanding of how various ingredients change physically during the production of feed will lead to significant lower losses and better digestibility in the fish intestines. This will make work easier for feed manufacturers, and increase their ability to develop feeds that give good nutrition, health and growth in farmed fish.

Several groups in Bergen are experts in the processing of biological raw materials from the sea, and have carried out research in the field for more than 80 years. One of the main factors in their success has been the availability of good facilities adapted to the development of the Norwegian seafood industry. One initiative that Nofima has taken together with the University of Bergen, Uni Research and the University of Nottingham will provide scientists with new tools to give increased understanding of how the processing of modern raw materials and feeds influences the ingredients and the final product. This initiative, Aquafeed, has been included in the Norwegian Roadmap for Research Infrastructure laid out by the Research Council of Norway. If the project is granted funding, it will become a national independent research tool within feed technology. New knowledge in this field will benefit feed manufacturers and the health of fish, and form the basis for an improved use of the currently used marine raw materials.

Salmon is the Norwegian product that reaches the greatest number of people globally.  Prime Minister Solberg pointed out that 37 million meals based on fish are made from Norwegian raw materials every day. Salmon is a part of nearly 40% of these meals. If salmon production is to increase as the Government has predicted, salmon must remain competitive. The competitors are probably not other types of fish, but may be chicken and pork. We need to discover ways of manufacturing feed that ensures that the fish can absorb close to 100% of the nutrients and energy that are present in the ingredients. Thus, we must understand how we can treat new raw materials and how we are to adapt the production of feed to the new ingredients. Only then can the aquaculture industry approach a market position that justifies comparison with the success of IKEA.

The revolution in feed must continue. Research by Norwegian groups with high expertise will contribute to knowledge in an industry that is to produce food that is both more sustainable and safe.

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