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Blue foods could help address global challenges

According to new research led by Blue Food Assessment – an international collaboration of scientists studying the role of aquatic foods in global food systems – “blue foods” originating from the ocean or freshwater environments have a significant potential to help address several global challenges such as nutritional deficits, disease risk, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change.

“Even though people around the world depend on and enjoy seafood, the potential for these blue foods to benefit people and the environment remains underappreciated,” said study co-author Benjamin Halpern, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “With this work, we bring attention to these many possibilities and the transformative benefit that blue foods can have for people’s lives and the environments in which they live.” 

The scientists found that blue foods are rich in many essential nutrients (such as vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids), deficiencies of which are high globally, particularly in South American and African countries. Increasing the intake of such foods in these areas can significantly lower malnutrition issues that afflict vulnerable populations – such as young children, elders, and pregnant women – the most. Moreover, since excessive consumption of red meats in developed countries in North America and Europe lead to high incidences of cardiovascular disease, promoting the consumption of more blue foods could lower the risks of developing hearth disease.

In addition, since aquatic food production exerts lower environmental pressures than terrestrial meat production, more blue food could also result in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable food system. Finally, aquaculture, mariculture, and fishing – if carefully developed – could insure the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide.

Unfortunately, even with thoughtful implementation of policies which lower the barriers to blue food production and access, not all countries will benefit to the same degree.

“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,” explained study lead author Beatrice Crona, a professor of Ecology at Stockholm University and co-chair of the Blue Food Assessment. “Our goal is for policy makers to fully understand the diverse contributions that blue foods can make, but also for them to consider the tradeoffs that need to be negotiated to really make the most of the opportunities that blue foods provide.”

To help users better understand the relevance of policy objectives around the world in terms of nutrition, heart disease, environment, and climate resilience, the researchers designed an online tool. “By further customizing the different parameters in the online tool, decisionmakers can explore the blue food policies most relevant for their national setting and use the paper to inspire blue food policies that can overcome existing environmental and nutritional challenges,” concluded co-author James Leape, an environmental scientist at Stanford University.

The study is published in the journal Nature.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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