New report reveals the minimal cost of fish welfare
A new report by Essere Animali finds that stunning fish before slaughter in aquaculture could have very little impact on production costs.
The Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry has developed a new "Sustainable Aquaculture" certification scheme in collaboration with sector associations. Unfortunately, key elements affecting the welfare of farmed fish are not addressed by the certification, despite the fact that the EU Strategic Guidelines for Aquaculture 2021-2030 treat animal welfare as an independent and priority topic.
According to Essere Animali, the most glaring shortcoming of the certification scheme is that, in total contradiction to the developmental directions taken by international regulations and certification standards, the Ministry's specifications do not include the requirement for effective stunning before slaughter, effectively failing to guarantee animal welfare even during the end-of-life phases.
Currently, the vast majority of fish bred in Italy are subject to slaughtering practices that seriously affect the welfare of these animals. For example, sea bass and sea bream are commonly stunned by immersion in mixtures of ice and water, where, due to the thermal shock, they are immobilised even though it can take up to 40 minutes before they lose consciousness.
Stunning methods more respectful of fish welfare already exist and, as the report produced by Essere Animali in collaboration with Animal Ask shows, applying them would have little impact on the production price.
For trout, the use of effective stunning methods would only account for 3% of the total production costs and would lead to an increase in the production price of 6 € cents/kg.
The same applies to sea bass and sea bream, where the use of effective stunning methods would only account for 1.2% of production costs with an increase in the production price of around 6 € cents/kg.
Even taking into account the initial investments needed to purchase the machinery, the increases in the production price would still be manageable (16 cents/kg for trout and 11 cents/kg for sea bream and sea bass), without considering that these investments could be financed within the 340 million euro coming to Italian aquaculture in the 2021-2027 plan of the Common Fisheries Policy, whose objective is precisely to support the development of systems with better animal welfare standards and more value for production.
The figures are similar to those in the European Commission's own study from 2017 which found that stunning would increase the cost of seabass and seabream in Greece by around 5 cents/kg, and reduce the cost of trout in Italy by around 6 cents/kg.
By the end of 2023, the European Commission will present a package of four new proposals including a regulation on animals at the time of killing. This regulation is an opportunity to finally deliver European-wide rules for more humane stunning and slaughter provisions for fish.
Apart from the obvious shortcomings during the breeding stages, it is particularly serious that the certification does not even guarantee fish the reduction of suffering at the time of slaughter, an element that has been guaranteed for years to terrestrial species and on which there is already a European Regulation not fully implemented in our country. The European Commission has officially recognised that farmed fish need greater protection and it is extremely worrying to see not only that these indications seem not to be implemented in the 'Sustainable Aquaculture' specification, but that this has major negative repercussions for both fish and consumers, who are not fully guaranteed clear and transparent information.Elisa Bianco, head of Essere Animali's Corporate Engagement office