Acknowledging a problem: “Soy, forest fires and responsibility”

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If the reputation of soy is so poor that people do not want soy-fed fish, then Norwegian aquaculture has a serious problem – because then if we lose our most important raw material protein, what will we replace it in the short term? Then it doesn’t help to say that the soy we buy is not from deforestation and that Norwegian fish is much better than imported beef. It becomes a bit like the cyclist who claims his rights when he is under a car.

It was with some wonder I read the editorial in SalmonBusiness about the challenges we may face in buying soy products coming from Brazil. This is not just about who is really right, and what is actually good, sustainable and healthy. This is about people’s perception.

The Norwegian aquaculture industry buys sustainable soy from Brazil, and we have no reason to believe that our suppliers directly or indirectly have anything to do with deforestation in the Amazon – legal or illegal. SalmonBusiness has a point that it is important to get the facts about certified soy, and the complex picture of agriculture in countries that are not as regulated as Norway. And there we are active in Skretting, and we see that our dialogue and cooperation with the Rainforest Foundation and the Future in our hands means that we gain a better insight and that we pay more attention to the facts.

But even if we do everything right, the situation can still cause us problems. Facts and complex causal relationships often fall short when things turn black and white and many probably shout “No!” and “Boycott.” We are concerned that the baby can be thrown out with the bathwater. That a sustainably produced raw material is removed because the reputation of a single plant is so poor. Then, in Norwegian aquaculture, we have a big problem with finding a satisfactory replacement in the short term. For we can neither take chances on food security and animal welfare nor to risk having to use more vulnerable marine resources.

When Skretting says that we are concerned about the situation in Brazil, we are concerned that soy is not accepted due to increased deforestation in the Amazon, more fires, more media attention and stronger pressure from environmental protection organisations. We can get demands from customers to supply feed without soy because they have again received demands from an important customer, a supermarket which in turn says they are under pressure from consumers and environmental protection organizations. Politicians in the Norwegian Parliament may again launch plans by promoting bills against soybean imports from Brazil.

The consequence of this is that the Norwegian aquaculture industry loses access to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of high-quality protein that we need in salmon production in Norway. How can we replace this? This is likely to lead to increased costs in an industry that is already concerned about cost growth in the long term. At the same time, we may lose access to the production of a non-genetically modified plant material. The entire Norwegian aquaculture industry should be concerned about this. Not just Skretting.

We have told our soy suppliers that we are worried. We have said that we are afraid that if the demise of the Amazon is not stopped, then we fear that the market will begin to demand salmon feed without soy. We ask our suppliers to influence their industry organizations and their own politicians to prevent the deforestation of the Amazon. Skretting cannot solve this alone – we depend on the value chain working together to find solutions. But we can’t sit still and watch this happen, just because we buy certified soy.

Is the salmon part of the problem or is it part of the solution? It’s both. We cannot hide behind the fact that we are small part of this. We must take our share of the responsibility and realize that future growth in Norwegian salmon production cannot be based on increasing the consumption of soy from Brazil – and in this way put indirect pressure on new areas to be deforested. Skretting invests tens of millions in research each year to find alternative raw materials, and we work with a number of companies to make them able to produce sufficient quantities to meet the expected growth in the aquaculture industry. But it takes time to get to industrialisation, and we can’t risk our legs being knocked down while we’re on the road.