Better for people and the planet? Scientists say blue foods holds the key to nutrition and climate issues
23 Feb 2023 --- Increasing the consumption of foods that come from the ocean or freshwater environments could address global challenges such as nutritional deficits, disease risk, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change resilience, according to an international team of researchers working with the Blue Food Assessment.
Blue foods is the term used to describe the complete range of foods – both plant- and animal-based – that can be harvested from water sources. The scientists, hailing from Canada, Chile, China, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the US, reveal that utilizing more ocean and freshwater food sources could increase food and nutrition security, while preserving planetary health.
“Even though people around the world depend on and enjoy seafood, the potential for these blue foods to benefit people and the environment remains underappreciated,” says Ben Halpern, a marine ecologist at the University of California in Santa Barbara and director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.
Enhancing “diets, societies and economies”
The study, published in Nature, identifies four roles that blue foods could play in improving national food systems’ sustainability and performance. These include reducing vitamin B12 and omega 3 deficiencies, reducing the rates of cardiovascular disease associated with excessive red meat consumption, reducing environmental impacts and improving climate adaptation and resilience.
The researchers highlight the need for policymakers to understand the diverse contributions that blue foods can make and consider the trade-offs that may need to be negotiated. However, they note that reducing health and environmental impacts can also reduce pressure on social systems.
According to the study, policymakers in countries with high environmental footprints and high levels of cardiovascular disease should focus on improving access to blue foods. In contrast, policymakers in nations with high environmental footprints and high nutrient deficiencies could support greater diversity of blue food production and promote lower-cost blue foods.
“Blue foods can play important roles in our diets, societies and economies, but what exactly this looks like will differ greatly from one country and local setting to another,” says Beatrice Crona, lead author, professor at Stockholm University and co-chair of the Blue Food Assessment.
Lowering the human and environmental impact
Promoting more freshwater or marine seafood could displace some red and processed meat consumption and lower the risks and rates of developing heart disease. Moreover, blue food can result in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable food system.
The researchers explain that aquatic food production exerts relatively lower environmental pressures than terrestrial meat production and a shift toward more blue foods could lower the toll that producing terrestrial livestock takes on the earth.
Furthermore, they state that carefully developed aquaculture, mariculture, and fishing can ensure the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
“With this work, we bring attention to these many possibilities and the transformative benefit that blue foods can have for people’s lives and the environments in which they live,” stresses Halpern.
The team has also created an online tool that can be used to gauge relevant policy objectives around the world in the areas of disease, nutrition, environment and climate resilience.
Edited by William Bradford Nichols
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