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What Does Soy Have to Do with Fish?
Fact Sheet • August 2010
ore than half of our global seafood supply comes from aquaculture, also known as fish farming. This practice requires large amounts of manufactured fish food to feed the captive fish. Fish food is often made with small wild fish that have been ground into a fishmeal or pressed into oil. Normally, fish farms produce fewer fish than the farm consumes (to feed the fish). The industry has faced intense criticism for inefficient use of small wild fish that are an important food source for larger fish, marine mammals and birds in the wild, and are often the primary protein in diets of smaller and lower income coastal communities worldwide. Because of this, and because fishmeal and oil have become increasingly costly, the industry is exploring alternative feed ingredients.
Soy meal is the most popular replacement for wild fish in aquaculture feed, and some aquaculturists have boasted that soy will allow for a more sustainable form of fish farming. However, feeding soy to typically carnivorous fish comes with a new set of environmental, social and human health problems.
Increased Soy Demand Impacts Latin America
Soy has become a prevalent ingredient in many processed foods and livestock feed, leading to a growing demand for soy from China and the United States. In response, many countries in Latin America — including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — are increasing soybean cultivation. Brazil’s soy industry, for instance, has a growth rate of 3.2 percent per year.1 This industry seriously threatens tropical biodiversity, causes soil erosion and promotes significant deforestation, affecting the Atlantic forest in Paraguay and the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil. Since the mid-1990s, Brazil has built eight new industrial waterways, three railway lines and numerous new roads to meet the needs of the soybean industry.2 Soy production has also harmed local communities. Even with subsidies, only corporations and large agribusinesses can afford the capital needed for machinery and other start-up soy farming costs. Because large-scale soy culti-
Ninety-one percent of soy produced in the United States is genetically modified.12 Worldwide, genetically modified soy accounts for over 75 percent of all soy production.13 GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are the result of crossing traits from one type of plant to another, which may expose people to harmful allergens.14 For example, consumers may have a severe — possibly fatal — reaction to a soybean with genes taken from a peanut plant.
vation is highly mechanized, these farms do not provide meaningful employment opportunities. Local farmers who had previously planted diverse crops are not likely to find work in the new monoculture system. In fact, for every agricultural worker finding employment in the new soy production system in Brazil, 11 are displaced.3 The intense production of soy also leads to increases in local food prices because land that once produced food crops is now used to grow soy for export. Other disturbing practices often surround the development of soy farms, including the displacement of indigenous people from their homes in the rainforest.
Given the detrimental effects of soy production on the environment and various communities, and the uncertain long-term effects of further integrating soy into so many aspects of the human diet, the aquaculture industry cannot depend on soy as a long-term sustainable substitute for using fishmeal in feed for farmed fish. Scientists should explore the alternatives above and continue to develop other innovative solutions.
Carnivorous fish exhibit significantly less growth when fed with soy15 than with fishmeal because phytic acid, naturally found in soy, prevents them from fully digesting the nutrients.16 Carnivorous fish fed a soy-based diet are also deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help prevent cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.17
Fish, Soy and Human Health
Consuming significant amounts of soy may also be harmful to human health due to chemicals compounds naturally found in soy. Seventy-five percent of all processed foods contain soy4 and soybean oil accounts for 10 percent of total calories consumed in the United States.5 Health advocacy groups have challenged the touted health benefits of soy, saying that it can lead to certain cancers, lowered testosterone levels and early-onset puberty in girls.6 Using soy in aquaculture feed while this challenge remains unsettled by the scientific community is problematic and unnecessarily increases soy in our diets. Fish do not naturally eat soy. It is a land-based protein not found in the aquatic environment. Fish that are fed an unnatural soy diet may be lower in omega-3s than their wild counterparts, and thus may not be as healthful for consumption.7
1 2 3 4 Altieri, Migueal A., GM Soya Disaster in Latina America, ISIS Report (2005). http://www.i-sis.org.uk/SDILA.php Ibid. Fearnside, Philip M., Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil, Environmental Conservation Vol. 28 (1): pg 24. Lohan, Tara. “The War on Soy: Why the ‘Miracle Food’ May be a Health Risk and Environmental Nightmare.” November 21, 2009. <http://www.alternet. org/water/144074/the_war_on_soy:_why_the_'miracle_food'_may_ be_a_health_risk_and_environmental_nightmare> Gupta, Sanjay. “If we are what we eat, Americans are corn and soy.” CNN Health. <http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/diet.fitness/09/22/kd.gupta. column/index.html> Lohan, Tara. “The War on Soy: Why the ‘Miracle Food’ May be a Health Risk and Environmental Nightmare.” November 21, 2009. <http://www.alternet. org/water/144074/the_war_on_soy:_why_the_'miracle_food'_may_ be_a_health_risk_and_environmental_nightmare> Li, Menghe H., et al. Effects of Dried Algae Schizochytrium sp., a Rich Source of Docosahexaenoic Acid on Growth, Fatty Acid Composition, and Sensory Quality of Channel Catfish Ictalurus Punctatus. Aquaculture 292 (2009) 232236. Kidd, Karen. Freshwater Institute, Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Effects of Synthetic Estrogen on Aquatic Population: A Whole Ecosystem Study.” Nandeesha, M.C., et al. Influence of Earthworm Meal on the Growth and Flesh Quality of Common Carp. Biological Wastes 26 (1988) 189-198. Ibid. Li, Menghe H., et al. Effects of Dried Algae Schizochytrium sp., a Rich Source of Docosahexaenoic Acid on Growth, Fatty Acid Composition, and Sensory Quality of Channel Catfish Ictalurus Punctatus. Aquaculture 292 (2009) 232236. ISAAA. 2008 at Table 1 of Executive Summary GMO Compass. <http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/agri _biotechnology/gmo_ planting/ 342. genetically_modified_soybean_global_area_under_cultivation. html> Accessed July 9, 2010. Food & Water Watch. The Bad Seeds: The Broken Promises of Agricultural Biotechnology. (2009). Gabriel, U.U., et al. The Role of Dietary Phytase in Formulation of Least Cost and Less Polluting Fish Feed for Sustainable Aquaculture Development in Nigeria. African Journal of Agricultural Research Vol. 2(7), pp279-286 (2007). Ibid. The American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter. jhtml?identifier=4632, 2009. Referenced November, 2009.
Effects of Soy on the Aquatic Environment
In open-water or offshore aquaculture, uneaten fish feed flows directly into the water. There is a lack of research on the implications of introducing soy — a terrestrial plant — into open waters. Soy is high in phytoestrogens — estrogen-like chemicals produced by plants. Studies have indicated that estrogen may have a damaging effect on wild fish populations by impacting their ability to reproduce.8
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Alternatives to Fishmeal and Soy
There are promising alternatives to fishmeal that can provide the proper nutrients for fish without the problems that come with soy. Freeze-dried worm meal can provide a high-protein option that is environmentally sustainable, even on a large-scale.9 Studies have shown that worm meal can replace up to 36 percent of fishmeal in aquaculture feed while maintaining a similar fish growth rate.10 Algae could be another viable alternative to fishmeal because it requires only sunlight and carbon dioxide, making it easy to grow in a variety of environments. In addition to other nutrients, algae also have the same heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids as wild fish that are used in aquaculture feed.11
For more information: web: www.foodandwaterwatch.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) • (415) 293-9900 (CA) Copyright © August 2010 Food & Water Watch
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