Blue foods – those that come from oceans or freshwater environments – have tremendous potential to help address several global challenges. Through careful implementation of strategies that leverage these foods, nations could advance their efforts to reduce nutritional deficits, reduce disease risk, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure resilience to climate change.
So says the team of experts from Blue Food Assessment, an international collaboration of scientists focused on the role of aquatic foods in global food systems. In an article published today in the magazine Naturescientists tease the global benefits of adding more blue food to the world diet.
“Although people around the world depend on and enjoy seafood, the potential of these blue foods to benefit people and the environment is still underestimated,” said UC Santa Barbara marine ecologist Ben Halpern, director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis and a member of the team. “Through this work, we draw attention to these many possibilities and the transformative benefits that blue foods can bring to people’s lives and the environments in which they live.”
Building on the landmark Blue Food Assessment, this study summarizes the findings of the assessment and translates them into four policy goals related to nutrition, health, environment and livelihoods. The research team reports that aquatic foods are rich in many essential nutrients, especially vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, deficiencies of which are relatively high worldwide, particularly in African and South American countries. Increasing blue food intake in these areas could reduce malnutrition, especially for vulnerable populations such as young children and the elderly, pregnant women and women of childbearing age.
Meanwhile, high incidences of cardiovascular disease — a condition associated with overconsumption of red meat — are found primarily in the wealthy industrialized countries of North America and Europe. Here, encouraging more freshwater or marine fish could displace consumption of red and processed meat and reduce the risks and rates of developing heart disease.
More blue foods can also lead to a greener and more sustainable food system. Since aquatic food production has relatively lower environmental impacts than terrestrial meat production, a shift towards more blue food could reduce the toll that land livestock (especially ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and goats) produce on Earth.
Carefully developed, aquaculture, mariculture and fisheries also offer job opportunities and, according to the researchers, can support the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
With a thoughtful implementation of blue food policies that lower the barriers to production and access to blue food, countries could reap multiple benefits simultaneously, resulting in healthier people and a more sustainable food system, as well as better adaptability to changing environmental conditions. But not all countries will benefit equally.
“Blue foods can play an important role in our diet, society and economy, but exactly what this looks like will vary greatly from country to country and local environment,” said lead author of the study, Beatrice Crona, professor at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University and co-chair of the Blue Food Assessment. “Our goal is for policymakers to understand the multiple contributions that blue food can make, but also to consider the trade-offs that need to be negotiated to make the most of the opportunities that blue food offers.”
To this end, the team offers an online tool that allows users to see the relevance of policy goals around the world in the areas of nutrition, heart disease, the environment and climate resilience.
“By further adjusting the various parameters in the online tool, decision-makers can examine the blue food guidelines most relevant to their national setting and use the paper to inspire blue food guidelines that can overcome existing environmental and nutritional challenges,” said Jim Leape, Co – Director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, a key partner in the Blue Food Assessment.
This study is the latest in a series of peer-reviewed papers authored by the Blue Food Assessment team to understand the potential for blue food in the current and future global food system and to help inform policy and to direct that will shape the future of Essen.
“The close cooperation with the large, international team of different experts at the Blue Food Assessment was great,” said Halpern. “The integration and synthesis of all the ideas and insights that have emerged from this work and that we have attempted to capture in this paper is really exciting.”