Aquaculture North America

Farm-raised salmon is greener than chicken, beef

March 11, 2021
By Source: BCSFA’s Environmental Footprint of B.C.’s Farm-Raised Salmon, September 2016

Amidst the debate on salmon aquaculture in BC, science-backed data showing the sustainability of BC farmed salmon is sometimes ignored or forgotten. We reprint results of a 2016 study

Salmon raised in the ocean have the lowest overall cost to the environment, says a research on consumers’ most common protein choices. The research, prepared for the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) by Ottawa-based RIAS Inc, looked at the production of salmon versus other major proteins in terms of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, eutrophication potential, water use and land use.

Results indicate that BC farm-raised salmon is 24-percent less costly to the environment than chicken, while beef has a cost that’s 500-percent greater than salmon raised in an ocean environment.

The study used a life-cycle analysis (LCA), defined by the United Nations Environmental Programme as “a tool for the systematic evaluation of the environmental aspects of a product or service system through all stages of its life cycle.” 

“Health professionals agree that salmon is by far the most healthy protein choice for people to eat, this study shows it’s also the most healthy protein for our planet,” said Jeremy Dunn, who was the executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association when the study came out.  “With the world population estimated by the United Nations to grow by over  2 billion by 2050, governments must consider the full environmental costs of the food we grow and eat.” 


Fast Facts

  • Farm-raised salmon ($0.59/kg) has the lowest overall environmental cost of any of the major protein options available to consumers today. 
  • Farm-raised salmon is 24-percent less costly to the environment than chicken ($0.73/kg) to almost 500-percent less costly to the environment than beef ($3.45/kg). 
  • GHG Emissions. Farm-raised salmon produces less GHG emissions than any commercially raised food animal.
  • Water Use. Farm-raised salmon was found to have consistently lower water use than other types of animal farming, using only a small fraction of the water compared to other species.
  • Energy Use. Over 90 percent of cumulative energy use for farm-raised salmon is from feed production. Overall, the evidence indicates that the life-cycle energy intensity for farm-raised salmon is better than beef. 
  • Land Use. Overall, studies have found that production of feed for farm-raised salmon requires much less land than used in the production of most other species. Over 90 percent of land use for farm-raised salmon is from feed production.
  • Eutrophication Potential. Evidence suggests that farm-raised salmon has lower potential for eutrophication (defined as the depletion of oxygen in a water body, which kills aquatic animals) than beef.
  • Salmon is the most efficient of all commercially raised farm-fed animals in converting feed into a kilogram of body weight, an important metric when assessing the sustainability of a food animal production system.  Farm-raised salmon has an average feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 1.2:1 compared to chicken at 1.7:1 and beef which can be as high as 9.1:1 – close to 10 times less efficient than salmon. 
  • BCSFA Members produce 75,000 MT of salmon, or about 95 percent of the total provincial harvest of farm-raised salmon.  

Source: BCSFA, 2016


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