ecotrust logo

November 23, 2009

Peter Tyedmers, Dalhousie

Seth Walker, Ecotrust
503.467.0752 office
503.803.7700 cell

Ulf Sonesson, SIK
+46 101566617

Global Study of Salmon from Dalhousie University, Ecotrust, and the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology Shows: "Sustainable" Food Production Isn't So Sustainable

Multi-Year Study Points the Way to Sustainable Salmon Production and Debunks Food Sustainability Myths Along the Way; Mode Matters More Than Miles

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, PORTLAND, Ore., GOTHENBURG, Sweden, November 23, 2009 – Popular thinking about how to improve food systems for the better often misses the point, according to the results of a three-year global study of salmon production systems. Rather than pushing for organic or land-based production, or worrying about simple metrics such as “food miles,” the study finds that the world can achieve greater environmental benefits by focusing on improvements to key aspects of production and distribution.

For example, what farmed salmon are fed, how wild salmon are caught and the choice to buy frozen over fresh matters more than organic vs. conventional or wild vs. farmed when considering global scale environmental impacts such as climate change, ozone depletion, loss of critical habitat, and ocean acidification.

The study is the world’s first comprehensive global-scale look at a major food commodity from a full life cycle perspective, and the researchers examined everything — how salmon are caught in the wild, what they’re fed when farmed, how they’re transported, how they’re consumed, and how all of this contributes to both environmental degradation and socioeconomic benefits.

The researchers behind the study sought to understand how the world can develop truly sustainable food systems through the lens of understanding the complexities associated with wild and farmed salmon production, processing and distribution. They found that decision-making for food must learn to fully account for the life cycle socioeconomic and environmental costs of food production. How we weight the importance of such impacts is ultimately subjective and in the realm of policy and culture, but using a comprehensive approach provides a more nuanced process for informed decision-making. Even food has a lifecycle, and the world must learn to comprehend the full costs of it in order to design reliable, resilient food systems to feed a world population that’s forecast to grow to 9 billion in less than 40 years.

The researchers chose salmon as their focus as it exemplifies important characteristics of modern food systems, yet offers unique opportunities for comparison. It is available around the world at any time and in any location, regardless of season or local ecosystem, it is available in numerous product forms, and it is distributed using a variety of transport modes. Unlike many other food systems, however, it is available from both wild sources and a range of farmed production systems.

While it isn’t easy to balance people, profit and planet, the world must do much better. Food production, in aggregate, is the single largest source of environmental degradation globally. Impacts vary dramatically depending on what, where and how food is produced. For example, early results of the study found that growing salmon in land-based farms can increase total greenhouse gas emissions ten-fold over conventional farming depending on how and where the farming is conducted. Similarly, while organic farming of many crops offers benefits over conventional production, organic salmon production gives rise to impacts very similar to conventional farming due to the use of resource intensive fish meals and oils. Beyond the farm, it’s important to also consider the total impact of food preparation. Driving to the store alone and then cooking alone at home has a big environmental impact. Going out to dinner more, or just eating more frequently with friends and family at home, has huge benefit.

For concerned consumers, it’s important to think about how food was produced and transported — not just where it was produced — when making food choices.

Initial Findings from the Study (More Due with the Final Report in 2010):

Across salmon production systems — and all food systems — the world is often swimming against the tide. Instead of working with nature, people work against it, chasing fish in the open ocean with big diesel engines or substituting energy demanding pumping and water treatment for free ecosystem services in salmon farming. We can and must do better than this and start to swim with the tide.

More information on this study and related publications is available at www.ecotrust.org/lca. The most recent published paper from the study can be seen in the journal Environmental Science & Technology: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es9010114.

The principal researchers for the study are:

About Dalhousie University
Dalhousie is a comprehensive, research-intensive university with more than 15,500 students. In The Scientist magazine, it was recently named the best place to work as a scientific researcher in Canada.

About The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology
SIK is a non-profit industrial research institute owned by the Swedish state. The purpose of the Institute is to strengthen the competitiveness of companies in the food sector. SIK conducts strategic and applied research in accordance with a goal-oriented research programme often in the form of joint industrial projects. SIK offers comprehensive consultancy services of both acute and strategic nature. The department of Sustainable food production have been working with of life cycle assessment of food products since 1993, and have presented five Ph.D theses and more than 50 peer reviewed articles within the field.

About Ecotrust
Over nearly 20 years, Ecotrust has converted $60 million in grants into more than $300 million in capital for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California. Ecotrust’s many innovations include co-founding the world’s first environmental bank, starting the world’s first ecosystem investment fund, creating a range of programs in fisheries, forestry, food, farms and children’s health, and developing new scientific and information tools to improve social, economic and environmental decision-making. Ecotrust works locally in ways that promise hope abroad, and it honors and supports the wisdom of Native and First Nation leadership in its work. More on the Web at www.ecotrust.org.


Press Releases


Contact Us

Carolyn Holland
Director of Communications
503.467.0754 (desk)
503.313.0915 (mobile)
Download vCard


Copyright © 2013 Ecotrust