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Fish protein resources for human consumption: summary of a seminar held in Colombo, Sri Lanka
National Nutrition Council, Oslo, Norway
A Seminar on Fish Protein Resources for Human Consumption, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 22-24 October 1979, brought together much of the present knowledge on type-B fish protein concentrate (type-B FPC- in a classification originated by the Protein Advisory Group, predecessor of the present Protein-Calorie Advisory Group of the UN System- has a grayish-brown colour and a smell and taste of dried fish, as distinguished from type A, which is white and almost without the smell and taste of fish), and drew attention to experience with this product in various parts of the world. Sixty-five participants from 12 countries attended the seminar, which addressed various aspects of the potential for large-scale use of this type of FPC. The discussion reflected general and global perspectives as well as the experience of the FPC programme initiated in Sri Lanka.
This paper undertakes to summarize some of the most important points and reflections about FPC and its use, based on the seminar as a whole, without attempting to give a complete record of everything presented. It is hoped that it will serve as a background note for further discussion on the prospects for FPC.
In his paper "Utilisation of Fish Resources on a Global Scale," W. Krone, Chief of the Fish Utilisation and Marketing Service, Fisheries Industries Division of FAO, pointed out that the conversion of fish into protein concentrate is highly efficient- with protein losses of less than 4 per cent as opposed to 40 to 60 per cent for most other methods of processing (freezing, filleting, canning}. Additional losses occur with these methods because of their perishability, while FPC is a stable product that can be stored for one to two years or longer even in a humid tropical climate. In addition, there is no need for refrigeration during transport and storage, and costs are further reduced because of the smaller bulk of FPC: one unit of FPC corresponds to five units of fresh fish. FPC is the cheapest animal protein available in the market.
Krone added that considerable amounts of fish resources are not being used fully or at all, such as waste products from fish processing other than FPC and so-called "trash" fish, or by-catch discarded by fishermen and shrimpers. Other species of marine life, such as krill, that are not exploited at present could be used. There are indications that if these under-used or un-used species were added to traditional sources, the annual global catch from the sea could be at least doubled. Thus, there is enough potential raw material for the production of FPC and similar products in addition to the present catch of fish for direct human consumption and for animal feed (fish meal).
Fish meal used for animal feed still reaches humans indirectly through animal products in the form of eggs, meat, dairy products, etc. A relatively large proportion of the fish is lost in this conversion, and, although animal productivity increases, costs go up. From a nutrient-utilization point of view, there is not much difference between feeding animals with fish meal and feeding fish with meat meal. However, the mechanisms determining the use of food resources are not merely physiological/ nutritional but a complex mixture of economics, politics, and other social factors. In spite of this, using FPC for direct human consumption represents a utilization "shortcut."
Fish harvesting has a great advantage over animal husbandry in that it does not require agricultural land, whereas animals compete with humans for land for the production of feed and food. In many parts of the world land is becoming scarce even for food production. With increasing population pressures and less available agricultural land, less and less acreage will be available for animal husbandry.
Another observation was that although the global fish catch has remained more or less constant over the past decade- some 60 to 70 million tons per year- there has been a clear tendency for the share of fish to decline for the developing countries. This is in line with the trend in a considerable number of developing countries that a large proportion of their population is getting poorer and cannot afford to purchase fish just as they cannot buy grain. When more affluent countries buy up grain for animal feed, demand goes up and forces price increases on the international market. Those with more money buy more and better food, which means that the poorest of the poor not only receive a lesser quantity of food, but the food they can buy is of poorer quality.
Fish has often been called the poor man's source of animal protein Because it has a protein quality equal to that of meat, eggs, and milk, it has an important role to play in the diets of many populations. From an economic and resource point of view it is important to note that there is sufficient raw material in the sea for the production of a new product like FPC in addition to, and not at the expense of, the present catch and production methods. If this were not so, competition would again arise for the use of fish resources, and only those with higher purchasing power could buy fish for direct consumption or for use as animal feed, thus depriving the poorer people of a highly nutritious protein source. Fortunately, the resources are ample for both traditional fishing and FPC.
Many developing countries are faced with increasing food problems for large sections of their populations, particularly those at the lowest socio-economic level, although a general trend toward deterioration in dietary quantity and quality has been observed for major sections of the population. The result is that 50 per cent or more of children under 10 years of age may suffer from malnutrition, and much of the remaining population may also have inadequate dietary intakes, even though it may not be clinically evident.
There is a need for both more food and special foods of better quality. Staple foods are needed in large quantities because they supply the major part of the protein and other nutrients in the diet. Supplementary foods that provide complementary protein and micronutrients are needed in relatively smaller quantities, but without them, the staple diet becomes qualitatively inadequate, particularly for vulnerable groups. This is where FPC could serve a useful purpose As a supplement to the staple diet, it has high-quality protein and is inexpensive.
Between one-quarter and one-third of the world's fish catch is processed into fish meal and used as an ingredient to improve the quality of animal feed. Only relatively small quantities of this supplement are needed. A small percentage improves feed considerably, resulting in better growth and health of domestic animals.
FPC could be called fish meal for human consumption. Actually, fish concentrate or fish powder would be a more apt term than fish protein concentrate. In addition to animal protein in concentrated form, it contains other ingredients in concentrated form, such as minerals and trace elements and many of the vitamins essential for maintaining human health and child growth, as well as for recovery from disease and malnutrition. It could be characterized as a multi-purpose food concentrate and supplement.
FPC, like other products of this kind, may be said to have a double effect. Through its direct (additive) effect it increases the content of needed nutrients in the diet. Through its indirect (potentiating) effect it improves the utilization of the total diet. For instance, the vegetable protein in the diet is better utilized with the addition of the animal protein in FPC. The minerals in FPC, e.g., iron, favourably complement the minerals in the main diet, because the iron in the latter is absorbed better in the presence of FPC protein Increased intake of iron, and especially improved utilization of total dietary iron, is essential for continuous formation of new red blood cells in the prevention of iron-deficiency anaemia. These are only some of the important factors in FPC for supporting growth and maintenance of health. The systematic use of fish concentrate has long proven advantageous in animal husbandry, and there is growing recognition of its potential for improving human nutrition and health.
Public Health Aspects
The importance of protein in human nutrition, and fish as a source of animal protein, was dealt with by A. Omololu, Director of the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. F.A. Akesode and A.C. Onitri, both of the Medical College, University of Lagos, and P. Okungbowa, Federal Ministry of Health and Social Services, Lagos, Nigeria, recorded their experiences using FPC in the clinical treatment of severe malnutrition (kwashiorkor). The author, former FAO Food and Nutrition Adviser in Bangladesh, reported on the public health impact following regular use of FPC in a village community. Both the clinical trials (Nigeria) and the community trials (Bangladesh) indicated statistically significant improvements, as shown by gains in weight and height as well as increased haematocrit levels. These findings are in accord with the statement of O.A. Christopherson of the University of Oslo, Norway, that FPC may be used in small quantities to: - prevent malnutrition and disease when supplied as a daily supplement to the staple food (e.g., rice, cassava, wheat), providing extra protein, minerals, and vitamins; - treat people who are sick and malnourished.
It is of particular interest that the positive community impact was observed in a population under sub-optimal nutritional conditions (i.e., low caloric intake and high rate of malnutrition). Such conditions are typical for large population sectors in developing countries. It therefore seems that there is a good potential for the use of a food supplement like FPC in areas where the staples in use are low in protein or have protein of poor quality.
In principle, the production of fish meal for animal feed and FPC for human consumption are the same. Certain modifications are required in catching the fish, and in transporting and storing the raw material and processing it, which makes FPC slightly more expensive than fish meal for animals.
In his paper "Problems Related to the Production of FPC Type B,"," G. Sand, Managing Director, Research Institute of the Fish Oil and Fish Meal Industry, Norway, gave a brief outline of the various processing steps in fish-meal production. He emphasized some of the measures and precautions to be taken in order to produce fish powder for human consumption to ensure the necessary hygienic standards. Proposals for such standards had been prepared by the former Protein Advisory Group (PAG) of the UN Systems. The standard regulations for the production of FPC set by the Norwegian authorities are even stricter than those proposed by the PAG.
In countries like Peru and Norway- the latter with a fish catch of three to four million tons per year, of which 70 to 80 per cent is converted into fish meal- there are fish-meal plants that can process up to 2,000 tons of fish per day. The FPC plants being considered for Sri Lanka would have a capacity in the range of 5 to 10 tons of fish per day. At present, the fish catch in Sri Lanka is about 150,000 tons per year; the intent is to double the catch within the next few years.
The price of fish meal (and FPC) is relatively low because of the availability of raw material in bulk at a relatively cheap price. It is fish that cannot be used for high-priced fresh, frozen, or canned products. This fish may be in surplus because the distribution net and the market are saturated with high-priced products, or it may come about because the amount of fish caught exceeds the processing capacity for other methods of preparing fish for high-grade products. The surplus can then be conveniently utilized for relatively quick and simple processing into fish meal or FPC. Also, catches of fish species that are not traditionally eaten may be suitable for conversion into FPC, e.g., the silverbelly in Sri Lanka.
The potentials and possibilities for using intermediate technology for FPC production were not discussed. There are a number of local fish-processing procedures resulting in products similar to FPC in the Sudan, Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, and other countries. However, many of them involve considerable processing and storage losses. The end-product may be of unsatisfactory hygienic standard and not suitable for long-term storage. Nevertheless, improvement of existing technologies for small-scale and labour-Intensive local production should be possible. They could usefully complement the larger-scale, technically more sophisticated processing technologies of the kind discussed in the seminar.
S. Valand, of the Fisheries Division of FAO, gave an outline of FPC acceptability studies conducted by FAO in many parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and Latin America. There were two projects: one on consumer acceptability in feeding programmes of the kind that are supported by the World Food Programme, and another on the potential for marketing of FPC and the possibilities for local production of FPC. The conclusion was that only where FPC could be marketed would there be a possibility for starting national production for domestic consumption.
E. Helsing, of the Government of Norway, co-ordinator and adviser on FPC utilization in World Food Programme projects, reported on acceptability problems when using FPC in the field in actual feeding programmes. Both she and Valand stressed the need for an information/education advisory service for the use of FPC, particularly during the introductory period.
Experience has shown that FPC is usually accepted where people are familiar with fish. As there are very few places in the world where people do not know fish, FPC could be expected to acceptable almost everywhere. FPC has been successfully used not only in coastal areas but also in landlocked countries, for instance in semi-desert Niger and in the southern part of the Sudan. This is not surprising, as FPC has a taste and smell similar to dried fish. Dried fish may be consumed far away from the sea and freshwater sources. In fact, in various places people make fish powder from dried fish, as in Bangladesh, southern Sudan, and the Alto Plano in Peru, where the powder is used in tasty, spicy dishes, often mixed with vegetables to make the relish dish of the meal, consumed with the staple dish. Usually it is easy to use FPC to prepare foods similar to locally known dishes.
This does not mean that there have not been any acceptability problems. Sometimes people express reluctance because of the strong smell of the fish. They may question the colour or the texture (fish in powdered form does not seem to resemble fish) or inquire about the origin and kind of product. It is therefore important that the introduction of FPC should be accompanied by relevant information.
Psychological, Emotional, and Other Factors
There are many other factors than the mere physical properties of FPC that influence its acceptability. Some of these factors are of a special psychological and emotional nature, often reflecting attitudes that may be difficult to pinpoint. Other factors are administrative and logistic in nature. However, they are all interrelated and may be difficult to single out.
Sometimes the point is made that fish meal is an animal feed and that it is therefore offensive to use a similar food for human consumption. Although of considerable emotional weight, the issue is not a rational one. Grain is also used for animal feed, but it is not rejected as food. Cereal grain is, in fact, the most important food commodity for people. However, about one-third of the world's cereal production is fed to animals. This is about the same ratio as for fish; about one-third of the world's fish catch is converted into fish meal and fed to animals. In this context, it could be mentioned that cats, dogs, rats, mice, and other animals eat the same food as people eat, but this does not stop anyone from eating those kinds of food.
If a new food product is distributed free, people may not accept it, thinking there is something wrong with it. Or they may reject being offered something they feel is an unsaleable good that other people do not want ("dustbin principle") It has often been noted that people prefer buying things rather than receiving them for nothing. If people buy something, even if it is at a nominal price, they acquire it because they intend to use it (the philosophy behind the idea of distribution by "social marketing"). The problem of unwilling recipients does not arise in a distribution system where people choose to buy a product, whereas beneficiaries of a free distribution programme may very well react negatively if they feel that something for which they have not asked is being "dumped" on them. The freedom of being able to choose whether or not to acquire something is an important factor in its acceptability.
The type of distribution is therefore important. Furthermore, FPC programmes that are badly organized may also result in low acceptability. Often a negative attitude on the part of the administrators, whether government officials or international personnel, may in the same way have a negative influence both on the efficiency of distribution and on consumer acceptance. Quite often there are more acceptability problems with programme administrators than with consumers. There are many examples of this.
There is a peculiar thing about fish; in many societies it has a low prestige value, perhaps particularly in English-speaking cultures. This is reflected in the English language, for instance, in the expression of something being "fishy," which has a clearly negative meaning. Even in as reputable a publication as Human Nutrition and Dietetics by Davidson, Passmore, Brock, and Truswell, which has appeared in seven editions since 1959, one finds the statement: "Yet, although many fishes are delicious, on the whole fish are less tasty than meat, and fish diets tend to be monotonous . . ." (1979 ea., p. 190). Even in otherwise traditionally fish-eating and fish-loving countries, influential and trend-setting people among the national elite who may have been influenced by foreign culture and education sometimes show signs of having adopted a similar reluctant attitude towards eating fish.
It has been said that fish is the poor man's animal protein. It certainly would be good if the availability of fish could be maintained and increased (in the form of FPC or otherwise) for low-income population groups who are so much in need of a low-cost food supplement of this kind. Would the price of FPC go up if FPC became popular? History has shown that various kinds of cheap foods held in low esteem became expensive when they were scarce. This has happened with herring in Scandinavia, where herring has now become a prestigious food.
In order to prevent pressure for price increases when FPC becomes better known and more attractive, in the course of its popularization one could perhaps simultaneously introduce similar, but alternative and more prestigious products of high price for those who could pay for it. There is a sensitive interplay between price and "felt" value, between appreciation, acceptability, and affordability. F. Samaraweera, Director of Reckitt and Colman of Ceylon Ltd. (a marketing company in Sri Lanka), said in his presentation on social marketing of FPC: "The optimum price is not necessarily the lowest price; on the other hand, it is not the highest price." A balance therefore has to be sought. If the price is too low, people may feel the product is less acceptable, and if too high, people cannot buy it even if the product is desired and acceptable.
FPC type B, as it is known at present, may be one of several possibilities for this kind of low-cost, highly nutritious food concentrate/supplement. But attempts could be made to dovelop other fish products, modified and more in accord with local tastes and preferences.
Perhaps a promising possibility would be a new fish concentrate with a higher fat content, fat being a universally liked and needed nutrient. Although over-consumption of fat is a problem in well-to-do societies, this is not the case among low-income groups in developing countries. Diets in many developing countries are grossly deficient in fat. Because of its high-energy yield, fat could be called an "energy concentrate," and could become a valuable ingredient in a supplementary food. Diets deficient in protein are also often deficient in fat.
Acceptability is dependent on many factors- on physical properties like taste, smell, and texture; on price; on existing food habits and beliefs- but it is also dependent on information/education. Acceptability may be considerably influenced by such information/education, particularly if it is provided regularly over time. It is an often expressed misconception that it is difficult to change food habits. They are changing all the time, and more and more rapidly, both in industrialized and developing countries. However, the changes are more often the result of drifting or pushed demand/supply mechanisms, rather than of conscious or planned food and nutrition policies.
On the basis of the above considerations and of experience gained up to now, there are many reasons to assume that a product like FPC will become acceptable to smaller or larger sections of a country's population if it is introduced and made available in appropriate ways.
Some distribution aspects were discussed at the seminar. Although the term distribution is understood as the manner in which a product gets to the user (free distribution, sale, barter, own production), distribution is also dependent on supply. The supply should therefore be kept in mind, being the other end of any kind of distribution.
E. Helsing outlined some of the difficulties and problems related to food aid. She raised some critical questions about the principles and mechanisms of food aid, and pointed out several of its weaknesses and possible counterproductive effects. She mentioned a series of difficulties encountered when using FPC in feeding programmes (free distribution) of the World Food Programme, and its limitations in such programmes.
F. Samaraweera outlined the philosophy of social marketing as one special kind of distribution: "application of commercial marketing methods in achievement of social objectives." Social marketing has been applied successfully for efficient distribution of other items such as contraceptives (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh). Samaraweera's objective was to provide FPC at reasonable price to low-income population groups for the improvement of their nutritional state. He told of his own experience in social marketing of FPC in Sri Lanka, especially the experience gained in the various stages of the project- the initial planning and preparation, test marketing, revision of concepts and plans - and now embarkation on a nation-wide sales campaign.
Before a new product becomes incorporated in the normal market, there are several obstacles to overcome. The method of social marketing- the provision to the public of foods considered desirable and useful to a community at low price (subsidized if necessary), distributed through the mechanism of ordinary commercial marketing- may be an interim or a long-term measure, depending on objectives and policies. One might well imagine an introduction period with social marketing, when the product is sold below cost, at a price people are willing to pay. Once people become used to FPC and learn to appreciate it and its nutritional value through information, education, and experience, they may well be willing to pay its cost value.
One important consideration is the question of target group: For whom would FPC be intended? Even if it can be used by everyone and anyone, the question could be modified to: Who needs it most? As already mentioned, in many developing countries more than half of the children suffer from malnutrition. This includes protein deficiency and other deficiencies against which FPC could be a useful supplement in their diets. However, the major part of the remaining population would also benefit from it or a similar product. Even if the poorest of the poor cannot be reached initially, it would be desirable from a public health and nutrition point of view for as large a segment as possible of the populations in many countries to have access to a low-cost food concentrate like FPC.
The concept of social marketing allows for different variations and combinations of principles in establishing the price to be paid by the consumer:
If the product has to pay for itself, the consumer's price will have to meet the costs of national production or imports. Still, under most circumstances, it should be possible to provide FPC in this way at least at one-half to one-third of the price of fresh fish or even considerably less, in terms of price for nutritive value.
Subsidies can be provided in various ways, nationally and internationally. The government in a country using FPC could subsidize from its own budget resources, for instance by contributing towards covering the costs of national FPC production, or it could refrain from claiming import duties. Another way of ensuring generous supplies could be a policy of exporting high-cost fishery products like shrimp vs. importing low-cost products like FPC.
International subsidy could be provided through bilateral aid in the form of free delivery of FPC, or at a special low price, or in the form of assistance for establishing a national FPC production plant. It would be difficult to channel FPC through the World Food Programme- the most important UN agency for food aid- for social marketing because of the terms of reference and practices of the Programme as they exist at present. The food items received by WFP are short-term (usually annual or biannual) pledges from the surplus production of donor countries. This food is used in various feeding and food-for-work programmes. The commodities cannot be sold in the open market in the recipient countries. If food aid for social marketing is provided, it should be in the form of regular supplies from planned production rather than from unpredictable surplus, and such food aid should be provided for a longer period of at least three to five years.
With increasing food prices in the international market and unforeseen annual fluctuations in supplies and prices, most developing countries aim for as high a degree as possible of self-sufficiency in food. Ideally, countries embarking on social marketing of FPC should, in the long run, be able to produce their own FPC, or most of it. However, even if FPC has to be imported, the provision of FPC for social marketing or another form of distribution at low prices may be worthwhile and compare favourably with other kinds of much more voluminous and expensive food imports.
If social marketing is chosen as a way of distributing FPC to large population groups- and whatever modification of this approach is chosen- it should be part of long-term considerations and planning (food supplies, fisheries, nutrition, and health). Even if it is intended only for an introductory phase, it must lead to something, either an alternative way of subsidized distribution or regular commercial sale. But certain steering mechanisms have to be built into such a programme. Otherwise there is the possibility that once the product becomes generally known and accepted its price will jump. In that case people will have to buy less of it, or buy it at the expense of other needed foods, or there will be fewer people buying it, and in each case the purpose of the exercise would be lost.
THE SRI LANKA FPC PROJECT
The Sri Lanka FPC project has a number of the elements and components mentioned previously in this paper and discussed during the seminar, including social marketing and plans for national production. FPC will be produced from a fish resource that so far has hardly been used for human consumption, the small and bony silverbelly. A subsidy contribution is made in the form of donated FPC from Norway, initially by Norwegian Church Aid, later by the Government of Norway through its bilateral aid to Sri Lanka.
Acceptability trials were conducted by FAO in 1977 with a positive response. The FPC project was started in February 1978. After an initial comprehensive marketing trial with positive results, a national sales campaign was launched at the time of the seminar in October 1979. The FPC was sold for Rp 0.95 for a 50-gram package, or Rp 19 (about US$1.20 at that time) per kilogram, which would be equivalent to just under Rp 4 per kilogram of fresh fish as it takes five units of fresh fish for conversion into one unit of FPC. This was between one-fourth and one-third the price of fresh fish. Income from the sale of the FPC donated to the project was invested in the national production of FPC beginning in 1981.
The use of FPC is still in its infancy. Whether it will be developed and become generally used will depend on many factors. Rationally, the need for and utility of such a product can be understood, stated, and defined. Although potentially of interest to anyone who accepts fish as food, it should be of particular interest to low-income population groups because of its high nutritive value and low cost. With increasing poverty for large population groups and their consequent increasing food deficit, which inevitably results in dietary deterioration in both quantity and quality as well as increasing malnutrition, there is a clear need for an easily available, cheap food concentrate/supplement to improve the diet, at least until the underlying poverty and food shortage problems have been brought under control. However, FPC could also play a useful role for whole populations, not just the poor, in need of dietary improvement. FPC has a potential as a multi-purpose fortifying supplement containing protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Sufficient raw material resources are available from the sea for production of FPC. This means that FPC type B (or similar products) can be produced in addition to, and not at the expense of, the present fish resources used for direct human consumption and for animal feed.
The proteins of fish and of meat are of the same quality; they are both animal proteins of higher nutritive value than vegetable protein. Fish has been called the poor man's animal protein and measures need to be taken to keep it available and even increase its availability. In many developing countries the population growth is so intense that it reduces land availability drastically, and the production of animal protein shrinks correspondingly. At the same time, animal protein from the sea is still an under-utilized resource. The conversion of fish into FPC is an efficient way to exploit this resource because it makes use of 97 per cent of the protein. This is almost double the efficiency rate of other preservation methods.
In price, FPC is cheaper than any other animal protein product. Since fish and dried fish products are known almost everywhere in the world, a product like FPC or similar, modified products should be acceptable almost everywhere and fit into local food habits where fish is traditionally eaten
Although there is enough knowledge and experience available about FPC to justify continuing to promote its use, it would be desirable to support and develop the continued promotion of FPC based on various kinds of further research and field studies. They ought to be organized in a much more planned and systematic way. Such studies should include:
Perhaps a product like FPC could most easily be made use of in countries with a centrally planned economy, where the government is in a position to undertake the necessary long-term planning and implementation to achieve social distribution and make the required decisions. In fact, there is the possibility that some of these countries in a few years, when they have convinced themselves of the utility and advantages of FPC, might attempt to procure whatever FPC is available in the international market in addition to what they can produce themselves.
Under other economic systems, social marketing seems to be the distribution method of choice, making use of the efficiency of normal commercial channels through local markets and small shops. At the same time, certain measures have to be taken, including subsidies if necessary, to keep the price low. Long-term steering mechanisms also have to be established to ensure that FPC remains available to the target groups, particularly low-income population groups.
Various kinds of international co-operation for fish resource use, distribution, and/or redistribution, including FPC and its social marketing, ought to be established between developing countries that decide they are in need of it and wish to use it and countries with large-scale production of fish meal that can also produce FPC. Such fish-meal- and FPC-producing countries that could transfer FPC by trade or aid also have technical know-how they could transfer and share with developing countries wishing to establish their own FPC production.
This international co operation could be undertaken on a bilateral basis or with the participation of FAO or other UN agencies to establish programmes in accordance with, and adapted to, the special conditions of the countries in question, regarding their fish resources and utilization, their economic situation, their food and nutrition state, and their long-term development plans and policies in general, to ensure that FPC would fit optimally into their context.
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