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Meat or Fish your Choice:


As the world’s population grows to the forecasted 9.7 billion in 2050, the demand for food is expected to increase between 59% and 98%.1 To help visualize this, the United Nations (UN) estimates “the equivalent of almost 3 planets will be required to sustain our current lifestyles”.2 The UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 is to: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Thus, what and how we eat will become just as important as how we produce it. What is sustainable consumption and production? “Sustainable consumption and production aims at “doing more and better with less,” increasing net welfare gains from economic activities by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole lifecycle, while increasing quality of life .” 3 Specifically, when it comes to food the UN points out that “overconsumption of food is detrimental to our health and the environment.” When we think of overconsumption we typically think in terms of calories, but as human beings we require calories in the form of protein, fats, carbohydrates as well as vitamins and minerals to survive.  

Protein is especially important for the building of our muscles. So what is a responsible level of protein consumption? Experts recommend we consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight on a daily basis. So an 80 kg adult male should consume 64 grams of protein and a 60 kg adult woman 48 grams of protein daily. Our journey to sustainable consumption of protein does not end here though. Studies determined the amount of protein the body is able to metabolize to build muscles from one meal is limited to about 30 g. 4

We have many choices for sources of protein. Let’s examine 2 choices meat or fish. Is one a more sustainable choice? Does one “do more and better with less” than the other? Take for example farm-raised ground beef and farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

Nutritional comparison5

While lean ground beef has a greater quantity of zinc and protein per hundred grams, an Amino Acid Score of over 100 such as Atlantic salmon (148) has indicates a more complete and higher quality protein versus lean ground beef with a score of 67 (low in the amino acid Tryptophan:Histidine). Atlantic salmon is also lower in calories, sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, contains no trans-fat and is rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

How does Atlantic salmon compare to ground beef on the production side? Let’s examine a few key indicators. First, we are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact of greenhouse gases on global climate trends and biodiversity through such environmental changes as the melting of the polar icecaps. Carbon footprint is a measurement to determine the amount of the damaging greenhouse gases generated directly or indirectly by a production system. “A carbon footprint is measured in kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e) per kg edible part of the product”.6 Atlantic salmon has a carbon footprint of 3.9 and beef a carbon footprint of 30.7 Let’s look at another indicator - feed. The amount of feed necessary to increase the weight of an animal by 1 kilo is defined as a ratio called the feed conversion ratio (FCR). Atlantic salmon has an FCR of 1.3 (kg feed) to 1 (kg Atlantic salmon) and beef has an FCR somewhere between 4 and 9 (kg feed) to 1 (kg beef).8. Finally, let’s look at edible yield, what actually winds up on the plate minus bones etc. For edible weight per 100 kg of feed, Atlantic salmon yields 61 kg of food and beef 4 to 10 kg of food.9

So we can see, there is quite a difference between lean ground beef and Atlantic salmon both from the benefits offered on the consumption side and impacts on the production side. Farm-raised Atlantic salmon is a lower calorie, higher quality protein and provides healthy sources of omega 3 fatty acids in addition to having a lower carbon footprint and better FCR (“doing more and better with less”). How can you as a consumer be sure you are making sustainable consumption choices? For farm-raised fish and seafood, the easiest is to begin by looking for the GGN label or other aquaculture certification label on the package. This signals the product was produced using responsible practices. Secondly, calculate your protein needs. You can do so using this convenient link.
While you have many choices, consume your recommended daily allowance of protein from high quality sources or combine animal and plant sources to make-up for any amino acid deficiencies. Finally, be mindful that overconsumption or food wasting has a harmful impact on the environment as well.



[2] p. 1





[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Salmon Farming Industry Handbook 2015 p.14