How feeding a mushroom to fish helps save trees

A Finnish company is trying to break the dependence of the fishing industry on fish feed made from soybeans, in addition to the deforestation that this entails.

The average person eats almost twice as much seafood as they did half a century ago, so the fish on our plates is more likely to come from a farm than anywhere else.

While the fish industry has a smaller carbon footprint than most meats, it still relies on soy to fuel its stock. The cultivation of this legume is the second biggest driver of tropical deforestation, even in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.

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That’s where EniferBio Oy and his five biologists come in, who spent locked up in a laboratory on the Helsinki border resuscitating a lost mushroom called Pekilo. For decades, this protein was consumed by pigs and poultry in Finland and used to be made from by-products created during papermaking, but it disappeared in 1991 when the industry shelved the process that produced forest residues.

“I studied biotechnology in Finland for more than half a decade and had never heard of Pekilo”, said Simo Ellila, CEO and Co-Founder of EniferBio. “Turns out it was a sleeping giant.”

The agricultural industry, facing increasing scrutiny over the climate impact of traditional feeds, is currently looking for more sustainable alternatives. Giants like Cargill Inc. and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. are searching with insects, while the French oil company Total SE has promoted a project to convert captured CO₂ into feed for chickens, fish and pigs. The market for fish feed is projected to reach US $ 72 billion by 2025, up from $ 51 billion last year, according to the research firm Markets and Markets.

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EniferBio’s lab-grown mushroom is not for sale yet. But the results of a first-stage test published Nov. 18 found that salmon, the world’s most traded fish, can digest Pekilo just as easily as flour made from bone. Skretting, the aquaculture research center that carried out the trial, said the results were encouraging and a sign that “a new protein feedstock is on the way.”

The European Union is also on board. The bloc’s maritime and fisheries fund awarded EniferBio US $ 1.4 million in October, adding to the cash coming from venture capital firm Nordic FoodTech VC.

Teni Ekundare, one of the leaders at ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) solutions firm Fairr Initiative, says investors see the revenue potential of alternative proteins.

“Climate change is influencing almost every investment out there,” Ekundare said. “Investors who previously didn’t pay attention to this space now keep it on their radar.”

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Soy makes up more than a fifth of the ingredients in aquafeed, which means that demand for the crop is likely to increase in the future and put pressure on natural resources. The association with greenhouse gases and deforestation will hamper the growth of the agricultural industry unless new alternatives are incorporated, warned a 2017 PwC study.

Simon Davies, professor of fish nutrition and aquaculture at Harper Adams University in Newport, UK, says that single-celled proteins like Pekilo, collectively known as SCP, have the potential to outperform fishmeal and soy as food. most widely used aquaculture in the world. Still, he warned that the scale of production of soy alternatives must reach “enormous levels.”

“Mushrooms are an excellent SCP with high protein content, locally sourced, and low processing costs,” said Davies.. “But millions of tons of soybeans and fishmeal are imported every year, so we will need more and more startups like EniferBio to counter this trend.”

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