Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations

Published on
March 6, 2023

Blue foods—fish, shellfish, algae and aquatic plants captured or cultivated in freshwater and marine ecosystems—can play an important role in food systems transformation, providing healthy nutrition for billions of people, reducing food-related contributions to climate change, sustaining natural systems, and supporting livelihoods, economies, and cultures of many coastal and inland communities.

The potential of blue foods will be fully realized only if they are brought into broader food system decision-making. Blue foods should be explicitly considered in strategies for improving nutrition, reducing greenhouse gas emissions of diets, increasing the provision of various ecosystem services, and in policies for creating livelihoods and improving equity across terrestrial and aquatic food systems.

New research integrates the findings of the Blue Food Assessment and translates them into four policy objectives that can help realize the contributions blue foods can make to national food systems. The Nature article ‘Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations’ looks at objectives, synergies and trade-offs. Here you find the ultra-short version of them combined.

Policy objectives

Blue foods can help achieve four main policy objectives: 1) reducing nutrient deficiencies, 2) reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, 3) reducing the carbon footprints associated with food consumption and production, and 4) safeguarding contributions to nutrition, economies, livelihoods and cultures under climate change.

Blue foods are rich in many essential nutrients

Harness the potential of diverse blue food consumption to reduce certain nutrient deficiencies. A vast majority (91%) of countries with vitamin B12 deficiency also suffer from omega-3 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency reflects more general under-nutrition, while omega-3 deficiency reflects low blue food consumption. Decision-makers will need to navigate the trade-off of environmental sustainability vs the nutritional content of aquaculture products.

Blue foods can be healthy alternatives to terrestrial animal-sourced foods

Leverage blue foods to reduce non-communicable diseases related to red meat over-consumption. If blue foods replace the consumption of less healthy red and processed meats—or avert the transition to diets that contain large quantities of such foods—they can help reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and certain cancers. Nutritional contribution and environmental impacts of blue food consumption will depend on what blue foods replace terrestrial animal-source foods in national diets. Substituting all red meats for blue foods is neither feasible nor desirable and increasing blue foods in the diets of wealthier consumers already rich in such foods could undermine health and environment goals.

Blue foods can provide nutrition with a relatively low carbon footprint

Reduce the environmental footprints of food production and consumption through low-impact blue foods. In a majority of the 89 countries where omega-3 enhancing policies are relevant, reducing carbon footprints is also a relevant objective. 124 countries were found to have a high intake of red meat, contributing to high dietary carbon footprints. As with reducing cardiovascular disease risk, low-impact blue food could function as a transition from high red meat intake towards less environmentally impactful protein sources (including plant-based alternatives). Commodification of blue foods can offer efficiency and economies of scale that lower carbon footprints and make blue foods more affordable and accessible.

Commodification of blue foods can offer efficiency and economies of scale that lower carbon footprints and make blue foods more affordable and accessible.

Blue foods are a cornerstone of many nations' cultures, diets, economies and livelihoods

Safeguard just blue food economies, livelihoods and cultures. In 103 countries, blue foods play an important role for nutrition, livelihoods, or revenue. Many of these countries also exhibit omega-3 deficiencies. In these settings, win-win policies would reduce malnutrition by implementing climate adaptations to ensure access to low-impact blue foods, while also securing quality jobs and removing barriers to wealth-generating benefits. Producing blue foods for export and allocating fishing rights to foreign fleets can offer economic opportunities for governments, individual businesses, and fishers.