The food system is moving from land to sea - as the future of food is increasingly seen to lie beneath the waves...but can it be sustainable?

"By 2050 there could be a 70% gap between food supply and demand globally."

One of the biggest issues currently facing the food system is how we can balance the growing demand for an increase in production of animal protein, and the stresses that production places on the environment. By 2050, when the population is set to hit nine billion, the World Resources Institute predicts there will be a 70 per cent gap between food supply and demand. There is simply not enough arable land or water for traditional agriculture to bridge the gap.


How can we feed the world?


Past initiatives to dramatically increase land productivity, such as the green revolution, came with a significant environmental cost. While it did increase food production, the intensive farming approach led to the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides and release of greenhouse gases. The oceans can help, but wild fisheries are already at or beyond their limits. The solution therefore, seems to increasingly lie in fish farming. Aquaculture is intrinsically less harmful to the environment than land-based protein production, and plays an important role in helping protect wild fisheries from depletion. However, it is not without environmental risk and needs to be done right - that is what the Global Salmon Initiative is about.


The role of aquaculture


“The big question is straightforward: how are we going to feed ourselves?" says 
Avrim Lazar, the Convenor of the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI). The GSI is a leadership initiative in the farmed salmon sector, established by CEOs from around the world, including Norway, Canada, Chile and Scotland, which aims to significantly improve the sustainability performance of the industry - I.e. to produce more food at less environmental cost.

“The big question is straightforward: how are we going to feed ourselves?”

Farmed salmon is one of the most healthy seafood choices, and with its high Omega-3 content, salmon is an especially nutritious protein. “A rapidly growing salmon farming sector is part of the answer, but if the industry is to meet it’s potential we need to continue to further improve our environmental game, and that needs to happen at scale, and at speed," added Lazar.


Image credit: GSI

Pre-competitive collaboration


To drive change at scale and speed, GSI members have decided to share environmental know how across companies. While still aggressively competing with each other on all other matters, the rule for addressing environmental issues is pre-competitive collaboration. They are sharing their expertise, research and breakthroughs and a result solutions are found more quickly and new techniques are adopted more widely raising the bar for the whole industry rather than just a few. To Lazar, creating this unique model of cooperation has a benefit outside discussing the immediate challenges facing the industry. “It’s surprisingly rare in any sector,” he says, “to have a table round which CEOs can exchange information and ideas with their peers in a safe and neutral pre-competitive setting. As well as dealing with sustainability we’re also creating a community with a shared sense of responsibility.


Change at speed and at scale


Jason Clay, Senior Vice President in charge of markets at the WWF, is also particularly 
keen to support initiatives that lift the poorest environmental players across an entire sector rather than making a few good ones even better. “GSI is an interesting model as the best performers realised that the whole industry is going to be judged by newspaper headlines and social media, and that they had to work together if they were to move the bottom ones up.”

"Rather than making the best initiatives better, we should lift the poorest."

To ensure progress in the right direction, GSI members have adopted the most stringent of environmental standards, The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) as their reference point for environmental and social performance, and have made it their goal to be 100% certified by 2020. To ensure accountability all members are publishing their sustainability performance 
results annually via an online Sustainability Report. “Getting people’s confidence is extremely important,” says Sady Delgado, CEO of Los Fiordos and GSI member. “The only way to do that is through transparency. Which is why we publish all our data online, and use this as a marker of our progress towards improved sustainability.” With more than half the global industry participating in GSI, the potential for wide scale change in sustainability is enormous.

Recognising the potential of working pre-competitively, the current focus areas for the GSI members are the ensuring the future sustainability of feed resources, and improving disease management. Focuses may change with time, as industry priorities shift, but the central mission is core: increasing the eco-efficiency of farming while minimising any impact on ocean ecosystems and ensuring a healthy product.


Image credit: GSI

Future development


In addition to sharing of knowledge, there have been many other benefits too. Companies taking part have seen an immediate return on their reputational capital, and because the public tends to think of the salmon industry as a whole rather than divided into individual companies, this has boosted the whole industry’s standing. Most importantly it has induced a certain pride among members in being part of a group that is quite simply doing the right thing which keeps them engaged and committed to the project. For an industry often located in remote areas, an improved reputation is also appealing to bright young graduates who want to work in ethically attuned industries. 
“There is a real motivational force in being part of a gang who gets it – and is doing the right thing,” Lazar noted.

Impressive as this shift in thinking is from the salmon industry, it is not enough to address the challenges to our food system. What we need is more sectors to follow the example of the GSI: setting the bar high and working together to achieve speedy results. Our future and the future of the planet depends on it.


Learn more

The Global Salmon Initiative (GSI) is a leadership initiative established by leading farmed salmon CEOs from around the world who share a vision of providing a healthy and sustainable source of protein to feed a growing population, while minimising their environmental footprint, and continuing to improve their social contribution.


Twitter: @GSI_salmon