Sustainability metrics

Various sustainability metrics have emerged over time to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of feed utilization in animal production, particularly in how we utilize marine ingredients. These metrics are only as reliable as the data they rely on and are subject to certain assumptions. 

FCR: The Simplest Metric

The simplest metric used in assessing the efficiency of feed utilization is the Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR), which calculates the amount of feed required to produce a unit of weight gain in animals. Despite its simplicity, FCR allows for straightforward comparisons across different animal production systems and from this perspective fish emerge as the most efficient animals to produce. Apart from the inherent genetic feed conversion potential of a species, the quality of feed is crucial in achieving a low FCR. Optimal growth and a reduced feed conversion rate are attainable only when a diet satisfies the species’ nutritional needs, is manufactured to high standards, and is administered in optimal amounts. At this juncture, strategically harnessing the superior nutrient profiles of marine ingredients becomes crucial.


FIFO: Assessing Fish Use Efficiency

The Fish In: Fish Out (FIFO) ratio has been widely utilized to gauge the efficiency of fish use in animal production, particularly in aquaculture. Developed to assess the balance in fish production, FIFO has encountered challenges due to confusion and misinterpretation over time. IFFO, have produced calculations for global aquaculture species which you can find here. In general there has been a marked reduction global FIFO figures over time, reflecting the use of fishmeal and fish oil as strategic ingredients at key points in aquaculture production cycles along advances made in the nutritional requirements of all farmed species. The overall fed aquaculture figure shows a marked decrease to 0.19, essentially meaning that for every 0.19kg of whole wild fish used in fishmeal production, a kilo of farmed fish is produced. 

FFDR: Quantifying Wild Fish Dependency

The Forage Fish Dependency Ratio (FFDR) emerged as an evolution from FIFO, with a specific focus on understanding the utilization of wild fish in feeds due to ecological concerns. This metric is calculated by taking into account the economic FCR (eFCR), the proportion of forage fish-derived marine ingredients in the feed, and the yield ratio of producing marine ingredients from forage fisheries. However, a notable drawback of FFDR lies in its underlying assumption that every species utilized in marine ingredient production within a global food production system inherently holds greater societal value through alternative uses such as direct human consumption markets or environmental benefits via conservation efforts. Nevertheless, an increasing portion of fishmeal, accounting for 39% in 2023 by EFFOPs members, is sourced from by-products. If these marine ingredients originate from well-managed fisheries or their by-products, their utilization in animal feeds may indeed represent the optimal allocation of this resource. Consequently, assumptions regarding the environmental impact of forage fish exploitation often lack the critical insight into the holistic production process. The latest global FFDR data were analyzed by IFFO can can be found here. As with FIFO, the FFDR has dropped notably in recent years due to a combination of strategic leveraging of Marine ingredients in feed production and growing prominence of circular marine ingredients produced from by-products. 

eFIFO: Introducing Economic Allocation

The economic Fish In: Fish Out (eFIFO) introduces an economic allocation to address biases in FIFO and FFDR approaches, providing a more balanced representation of sustainability burdens. Economic allocation serves as a proxy for the nutritional value of ingredients, highlighting the significance of those with limited availability and higher demand. In the context of eFIFO, this approach enables us to adapt to the evolving dynamics between fishmeal and fish oil values over time, offering a more accurate representation of sustainability burdens. Furthermore, it facilitates acknowledgment of the economic contributions of by-products compared to the direct human consumption component. IFFOs latest eFIFO calculations can be found here

LCA: Moving Beyond Simplistic Metrics 

In the quest for a comprehensive evaluation of sustainability an important step involves transitioning towards lifecycle assessment (LCA). LCA offers a transparent and holistic evaluation mechanism, allowing a more equitable comparison of feed resources. By assessing environmental impacts across the entire lifecycle, LCA not only identifies areas for enhancement but will also drive endeavors towards more responsible practices in animal production. It is a far more complex calculation and takes into account a wide array of environmental impact categories, including global warming potential, cumulative energy use, abiotic resource consumption, ozone depletion potential, water consumption, and land use, among others which are quantified and will allow a full assessment of the full impact of a food production sector. Typically speaking, Marine Ingredients have much lower CO2 footprints than their plant based alternatives and work is underway at IFFO to update and modernize this data in the Global Feed Lifecyle-Assessment Institute (GFLI). EFFOP is part of this global project which you can read more about here

By embracing an LCA approach to assessing marine ingredient sustainability, the industry will ensure that they remain accountable on a more holistic and widely accepted path forward for environmental footprint assessment moving into the future.