Swapping meat for fish and shellfish would improve nutrition and reduce emissions

Most of the meat consumed in the world comes from industrial farmswhich according to multiple reports cause serious environmental damage. A new scientific study has revealed the enormous benefits, both environmental and nutritional, of replacing meat with seafood and fish in diets.

The study, published in ‘Communications Earth & Environment’, underlines that shellfish and fish help meet nutritional needs with low climate impact. The authors evaluated the nutrient density and greenhouse gas emissions, weighted by production method, resulting from fishing and farming of globally important species.

“The results confirm that seafood is a highly nutritious food source with relatively low climate impact“, collects the summary of the report. “This suggests that it is possible to achieve substantial gains in emission reductions by changing protein sources and at the same time achieve nutritional benefits, “he adds.

Many, but not all, species of shellfish and fish provide more and better nutrition with “lower emissions than protein from terrestrial animals, especially red meat.” But there are large differences in climate performance, even within species groups, depending on the production method.

Increased consumption of wild-caught small pelagics, salmonids and bivalves would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissionswhile enhancing the nutritional benefits, in particular if red meat is replaced“, says the document.

‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ Diets

“Although it is necessary to overcome many obstacleswe have the potential to reshape seafood production and consumption towards species that optimize nutrition and minimize climate emissions both in terms of which species are produced and how.”

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According to the study authors, sustainable seafood could provide more nutrients to humans than beef, pork and chickenwhile reducing emissions.

The findings of this research team suggest that policies to promote seafood in diets as a substitute for other animal proteins could improve food safety in the future and help address climate change.

The goal must be twofold when it comes to human diets, according to the authors. On the one hand, they must become more nutritious throughout the world. On the other hand, it is essential to reduce its climate footprint, to compensate for population growth.

Fish and shellfish are a excellent source of protein, fatty acids, vitamins and mineralsand previous research has shown the potential environmental benefits of replacing meat with seafood in diets.

However, strategies to reduce climate emissions from future diets generally promote ‘green’, plant-based dietsand overlook the potential of ‘blue’ diets, based on seafood.

Peter Tyedmers, Elinor Hallström and colleagues in the now published study analyzed the nutrient density and climate impacts of wild-caught and farmed seafood sources from a wide range of fisheries and aquaculture sources.

Salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovy, mussel, oyster…

They discovered that farmed salmon, herring, mackerel and anchovies, as well as mussels and oysters, had the lowest climate impacts relative to their nutritional value. In fact, half of the seafood species tested had higher nutrient density and lower greenhouse gas emissions than beef, pork and chicken.

They also verified that differences in production and harvesting methods cause great variability in the climatic impacts of each species. Thus, to further reduce emissions, the fishing industry should adopt fuel efficient fishing technologies and revitalize depleted populations. But aquaculture produces “more fish and shellfish and finds more climate-friendly food sources,” the authors stress.

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Although the research focuses on greenhouse gas emissions and not potential impacts on ecosystems, the findings reveal the potential for seafood to provide a sustainable source of nutritious food that benefits the climate.

The authors’ conclusion is clear: “Policies to help address climate change and poor diets should promote sustainable consumption of seafood“.

The authors urge taking advantage of the growing ecological awareness –especially in the First World– to promote a change in eating habits. An example of this growing sensitivity towards the environment is the fact that 58% of Spaniards have reduced their consumption of red meat and 24% have completely stopped consuming it in the last five yearsaccording to a study by the French research institute OpinionWay.

Reference study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-022-00516-4

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