Blue foods ‘can help tackle global challenges’

So-called “blue” foods should be a key part of the strategies for dealing with global health and climate change issues, an international group of scientists is arguing.

A paper published today, “Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations” (published in Nature), says that blue (aquatic) foods have the potential to help improve the performance and sustainability of national food systems.

The paper is the work of experts at Stockholm University in Sweden, the Stanford Centre for Ocean Solutions in the US and international not-for-profit body EAT, which looks for science-based ways to improve food systems.

The Blue Food Assessment study, on which the paper is based, found says that sourcing more food from the planet’s seas, rivers and lakes has the potential to deliver benefits and improvements across four policy dimensions:

  • B12 and omega-3 nutrient deficiency;
  • high rates of cardiovascular disease associated with excessive red (particularly processed) meat consumption;
  • high environmental impacts, and climate adaptation; and
  • resilience to safeguard the contribution of blue food systems to nutrition, just economies, livelihoods and cultures.

The paper argues that policymakers in countries with high environmental food footprints and high levels of cardiovascular disease – typified by developed countries in Europe and North America – should focus on improving production and access to blue foods, which can act as a substitute for the consumption of more impactful red meats.

In contrast, the authors suggest that policymakers in nations characterized by high environmental food footprints and high nutrient deficiencies could choose to support greater diversity of blue food production and promote lower cost blue foods. The research indicated farmed bivalves or small pelagic fish, such as sardines and herrings, can benefit less affluent populations while having low environmental footprints.

The scientists have also developed an online tool to help policymakers explore how blue foods can help tackle the specific issues for each country.

Beatrice Crona, lead author, professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and co-chair of the Blue Food Assessment, said: “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.

“Our goal is for policymakers to fully understand the diverse contributions that blue foods can make, but also for them to consider the trade-offs that need to be negotiated to really make the most of the opportunities that blue foods provide.”

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