The real challenge in the food arena is to produce functional food sustainably that is both nutritious and affordable, says Ioannis Zabetakis, Assistant Professor of Food Chemistry, at the University of Athens, Greece. This task is not an easy one. We need to combine good management practices, use resources effectively, make sensible use of water and also invent novel foods with more “good” calories and fewer “bad” calories and also with enhanced functional properties against cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), diabetes and obesity.
Feed Conversion Rate
In terms of feed utilization in food production, the Feed Conversion Rate (FCR) needs to be taken into account. The lower the FCR, the less feed we need to produce food. Some FCR examples: salmon has only 1.2 (i.e. it takes 120 g of feed to produce 100 g of salmon), chicken has 1.9, pork 5.9, while beef has 8.7. It is quite obvious from these numbers why fish and poultry are more “food secure” in terms of sustainability. We need less food to grow them and this data on its own in a planet where food demand will double in the next 35 years is of paramount importance.
Another parameter we need to take into account is the nutritional value of the food. In the developing world, we need to address undernutrition and malnutrition. In the developed world, CVDs, diabetes and obesity kill millions every year. The task is multidimensional. We therefore need to design our manufacturing strategies in such a way where food would contain all the necessary nutrients (e.g. proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, minerals, vitamins) in a balanced way. Novel functional foods (also known as nutraceuticals) are urgently needed in “Western” societies to alleviate those chronic health problems.
Raw ingredients for agriculture and aquaculture
This year, it is a historic year for aquaculture because it will provide –for the first time since its commercialisation- more than 50% of fish needed for human consumption. On average, we each consume about 17 kg of fish each year. Despite recent claims that cod stocks have been reinvigorated, wild fish stocks are diminishing so the pressure is on the aquaculturists to design novel functional and also sustainable feeds. Similar challenges exist in agriculture: improving the management of wastes and effluents, gas emissions (e.g. methane) are urgent tasks in order to improve the sustainability of our food production systems.
Such a promising sustainable raw ingredient is the by-product of olive pressing, called “olive pomace” (OP). OP on its own has important cardioprotective activities and it can be used in a number of agricultural and aquacultural applications in order to provide functionality at a low cost but also with excellent sustainability. There is no doubt on the sustainability of OP: olives have been around the Mediterranean for millennia and by exploiting OP, a number of novel feeds and thus food could be, thus, produced.
1. Nasopoulou, C. & Zabetakis, I. Agricultural and aquacultural potential of olive pomace, Journal of Agricultural Science, 2013, 5, 116-127
2. Functionality against cardiovascular diseases
3. Nasopoulou, C. & Zabetakis, I., Benefits of fish oil replacement by plant originated oils in compounded fish feeds. A review. LWT Food Sci. Technol. 2012, 47, 217-224.