Why today’s consumers are questioning everything

Transparency is a growing issue for consumers, increasing consciousness about their food pushing many to question providers. Martin Fothergill, partner & co-founder of 8F, explores how the fish industry needs to respond.

Antibiotic-free is the new organic, according to The Food People 2019/20 Food & Beverage Trends Report. The no-trust world in which consumers live means that any and every product gets put under scrutiny, to tease out exactly what’s in it. For too long we’ve unquestioningly accepted food as food, but, as a higher number of hormones and antibiotics in our food chain are uncovered, consumers are calling for more clarity.

World Health Organisation questions use of antibiotics in food

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for farmers to stop giving antibiotics to healthy animals because they are fuelling the rise of superbugs. According to WHO the widespread use of the drugs in farm animals has been a large factor in the rise of antimicrobial resistance. And the threat to human health can be serious; with antibiotic resistance potentially causing issues in everyday surgery and making infections more serious.

Relaxed labelling protocols and a lack of transparency are two factors posing a risk to human life

The UN reported that 90% of world marine fisheries are either overfished or fully fished

While awareness around the use of antibiotics in farm animals is well known, consumers are perhaps less in the know about potential issues in seafood. Pure Salmon recently conducted a survey of 2,000 consumers in the UK and US and found just four in ten are aware of the issue of microplastics in fish, for example. The survey also revealed very low awareness levels around the use of antibiotics and other chemicals in sea-farmed fish, with just over a third (36.5%) knowing about the risks.

This comes at a time when world demand for fish is only increasing, which means a serious supply deficit is coming. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts projects that almost 20% more fish will be eaten by 2030, to help sustain the growing global population. The UN also reported that 90% of world marine fisheries are either overfished or fully fished, meaning there are simply not enough fish in the sea with a predicted supply deficit of approximately 33 million by 2030.

Traceability first: emphasising sourcing and sustainability

This serious threat to supply also ties into the trend of consumers seeking the ultimate traceability when it comes to the food they consume. In this ‘no-trust’ culture, suppliers need to not only have fully traceable products, but also actively demonstrate this to consumers. This lack of trust, coupled with the expectation that food needs to be produced as sustainably as possible, presents multiple challenges for the industry as consumers view their food choices as a vehicle for wider social impact. 

Looking at fish as an example, two thirds of consumers say they would be more likely to purchase fish that has been sustainably farmed. Indeed, four in five consumers (81%) said it was either important or very important to understand where fish comes from when making purchasing decisions.

Taking the sea out of seafood with Recirculating Aquaculture Systems

To meet with this growing consumer demand for traceability, within the fish industry there is a movement towards fish grown in land-based tanks. Such tanks use a special technology called a Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) to create an environment and purity of the water in the tanks that can be strictly controlled to ensure fish have the healthiest living conditions possible. 

As the fish never come into contact with the sea, there is no need to use chemicals, vaccines or antibiotics to control disease and parasites. This means fish can live in a pure and bio-safe environment free from chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, microplastics and pollutants.

94% of survey respondents were likely to be loyal to a brand if it offered complete transparency

Doing more to reassure consumers: FishChoice and Ocean Wise

Regardless of where fish or other foodstuff is produced, we need to do more to show consumers exactly how the food they are eating meets with the sustainability and traceability criteria that they are calling for.

In the case of fish, suppliers should look to work with those organisations who are recognised by FishChoice. This is a registered environmental, non-profit organisation founded in 2008 and is dedicated to helping businesses advance their seafood sustainability efforts on their own.

Producing sustainable food without further damaging our oceans or land is of paramount importance

Furthermore, suppliers can seek out businesses working with Ocean Wise, a leading sustainable seafood organisation driving change in the industry by focusing on protecting and restoring the world’s oceans. Businesses which carry the Ocean Wise recommended stamp will provide an assurance to consumers of an ocean-friendly and healthy seafood choice. All stamp holders need to comply with the highest standards of the Ocean Wise Seafood Program to be recognised as a sustainable supplier.

A food production revolution, where we do all that we can to ensure the purest produce that has the lowest environmental impact, is the future of the sector. Producing sustainable food without further damaging our oceans or land is of paramount importance and it is the socially responsible choice for consumer health, the environment and the economy.

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