Soybean of the Sea

fish marketSoy-vay!

Soy burgers, soy cheese, soy milk. There are myriad products for us humans when it comes to soy (for better or for worse). But, who ever thought the news of the day would be the soy intake of fish?

As it turns out, aquaculture industries are upping the ante into the world of aquatic factory farming by promoting the use of soy to feed farmed fish. This mirrors the current land-based practice of over-feeding factory farmed animals with genetically modified corn and grain – and now we can have unnaturally stuffed fish to join in the fray!

The reason for introducing soy into fish farms is, as per usual, reduced operating costs, also known as “more bang for your buck.” But also, as per usual, the cost is really on the health of the animals and the citizens who eat them. This latest report comes from Food & Water Watch and shows:

“…how the soy industry, which is dominated by Big Ag giants Monsanto and Cargill, are promoting the use of soy as an environmentally-friendly way to feed factory farmed fish. For them, it could mean millions in profits. But for consumers, it’s like taking our factory farm model of food production and putting it right in the ocean.”

As if these practices haven’t squandered enough of our land growing crops to feed billions of farmed animals, now the model will encourage the depletion of our oceans, a little at a time.

The problem, in part, is that while many citizens have begun lessening dependence on red meats, they haven’t completely dropped the meat habit, and are instead consuming massive quantities of seafood, leaving the seafood industries “no choice” but to become a factory farm to meet consumer needs for cheap fish. “In fact, close to half of the seafood we consume globally comes from these factory fish farms,” wrote Food & Water Watch in the essay “Soy Ain’t Green.”

But the shift to soy is about more than consumer demand.  Food & Water Watch reported, “…you can see why the powerful soy lobby, which is well represented in Washington, D.C., is aggressively promoting the use of soy to feed farmed fish. From 1996 to 2009, the sales of foods containing soy increased from approximately $1 billion to almost $4.5 billion.” Money, honey.

Additionally, the same ethical problems of using a nation’s supply of grain to feed factory farmed animals instead of people resurfaces when soy, which could provide protein for humans, is force fed to fish to make them bigger and more appetizing. But it’s the fish who have no appetite for soy in actuality. Said the report on soy, “Soy is not easily digestible for fish, a problem that can lead to reduced growth rates and inefficient feed use. Fish experience nutrient deficiency when they consume soy.”

So, really, it seems the only justification for soy is subsidies fought for by lobbyists. It certainly isn’t an efficient or healthy feed source.

But humans have already been over-consuming soy for years due to this soy-genda in processed foods and livestock.

“Soy is already ubiquitous in the human diet. It’s in 60 to 70 percent of our processed foods and factory farms feed it to the food animals we eat. In fact, livestock consumes 40 percent of the soy produced in the U.S.

Much of the soy produced to feed fish and cattle comes from conventional producers of soy, specifically Monsanto, who controlled 62.5 percent of soybean seeds as of 2010. Thanks to their dominance in the soy market, 93 to 94 percent of the soybeans produced in the U.S. in 2009 were genetically modified according to Monsanto patents. It looks like consumers who eat farmed fish are likely eating fish that are fed GE soy.”

And, another problem that feels like deja vu: waste. Food & Water Watch’s conclusion states this will develop into having a devastating impact on ecoystems near aquaculture centers:

“Fish that eat soy produce excessive amounts of waste. When thousands of fish are sharing close quarters in ocean pens, this creates an environment friendly to bacteria and disease. But using soy in industrial-sized fish farms also puts a serious burden on ecosystems on land, including the communities that live in close proximity to the resources necessary to produce soy. In Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, the expansion of the soy industry has led to deforestation, soil erosion and displacement of indigenous peoples.

Increased use of soy in factory fish farms will allow big agribusiness companies, including Monsanto and Cargill, to transfer their massive industrial farming models into our oceans. This could have devastating affects on the marine environment and the seafood industry, as well as on the health and well being of humans.”

Soy is being touted as a “sustainable” alternative to fish feed. But in reality, it is not sustainable for the fish, the environment or for those who consume them.

Read the full report here.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, quinet

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