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Feed conversion efficiency in aquaculture: do we measure it correctly?

July 15, 2018
Environmental Research Letters

Jillian P. Fry, Nicholas A. Mailloux, David C. Love, Michael C. Milli, and Ling Cao

Governments and other stakeholders are seeking strategies to boost food production efficiency and food system resiliency, and aquaculture (farmed seafood) is commonly viewed as having a major role in improving global food security based on longstanding measures of animal production efficiency. The most widely used measurement is called the 'feed conversion ratio' (FCR). FCR does not account for differences in feed content, edible portion of an animal, or nutritional quality of the final product. Given these limitations, we searched the literature for alternative efficiency measures and identified 'nutrient retention', which can be used to compare protein and calories in feed (inputs) and edible portions of animals (outputs). Protein and calorie retention have not been calculated for most aquaculture species. Focusing on commercial production, we collected data on feed composition, feed conversion ratios, edible portions (i.e. yield), and nutritional content of edible flesh for nine aquatic and three terrestrial farmed animal species. Comparing all terrestrial and aquatic animals in the study, chickens are most efficient using these measures, followed by Atlantic salmon. Despite lower FCRs in aquaculture, protein and calorie retention for aquaculture production is comparable to livestock production. This is, in part, due to farmed fish and shrimp requiring higher levels of protein and calories in feed compared to chickens, pigs, and cattle. Strategies to address global food security should consider these alternative efficiency measures.

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