Innovation, Development & climate
For animals in aquaculture to be fed in a way that is healthy, nutritious, and tasty, their feed must have functional ingredients. At Diana Aquaʼs Aqualis, the new testing center in Thailand, researchers and developers work daily on innovations and improvements of existing products.
Farmers around the world produce fresh and saltwater fish and crustaceans to meet the increasing consumer demand. The market is huge: In 2019, 33.5 million tons of farmed fish from aquacultures were sold worldwide. For the animals to develop well, not only the water quality and external conditions such as the temperature are crucial: nutrition is as well. Diana Aqua business unit from the Symrise Nutrition segment supplies feed manufacturers with high quality products that make a difference – natural solutions that transform simple plant-based ingredients into nutritious and tasty feed. The ingredients simultaneously achieve more, partly replacing the fish meal in the feed that encourages the animals to eat. Fish meal is often produced from fresh fish, and around 15 million tons of wild-caught fish are used for this purpose. This means it is no longer available for humans – not to mention the ecological consequences of the process.
These “palatability enhancers” that Diana Aqua produces mainly in France, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Thailand, are complex products. “Theyʼve been developed through a lot of research,” says Fabio Soller, who has worked with his team to build a new development center for the company, named Aqualis, near the Thai capital of Bangkok. Shrimp and tilapia swim in 96 tanks and aquariums in the 1,000-square-meter white building with blue steel struts. Tilapia is becoming increasingly popular in kitchens of the world – around 6.8 million tons are offered on the market every year. “Here we can run two dozen test diets simultaneously to try out ours and competitors products,” explains Fabio Soller, who has been the Technical Director of Diana Aqua in Asia /Pacific since 2018. “These trials last between ten and fourteen days each.”
In the case of Diana Aqua, for example, the “products” are the palatability enhancers. To produce them, co-products from shellfish and fish processing are converted into a liquid or a powder. These are left over from food production and would otherwise be further processed into fish meal, or even disposed of. This process uses enzymes under clearly defined protocols to transform proteins into peptides. The palatability enhancers are added to feed in proportions between 0.5 and 2 %, making the feed particularly attractive for the farmed animals. Fabio Soller searches for a simple comparison. “You have to imagine, it’s like us humans eating bread without butter, or soup without spices.” There are always three main factors involved: How to have a positive influence on survival, feed intake and animal growth?
Diana Aqua did not previously have its own testing center in Asia, where 89 % of the worldʼs aquacultures production takes place. Instead, the company cooperated with universities. Now the testing capacity has increased greatly, while mastering perfectly the performance demonstration, close to its customers. With increased reliability, the company can now also react more flexibly to customer requirements and test its own innovations. “For example, if we improve the feed flavor with our palatability enhancers, we can increase the feed intake of farmed animals by a considerable high percentage,” Fabio Soller reports. Diana Aqua keeps on conducting trials in collaboration with universities, with the addition of testings at aquaculture farmersʼ sites. “We practically and scientifically demonstrate to our partners how they can benefit from better palatability enhancer in their feed.”
The entire Aqualis system is built on sustainability: The test animals are not killed after the test series, as is often the case, but sold to small farms in the area. “Often our employees or their families have small farms that are happy to take the animals for further growth to market size,” says Fabio Soller. The 50 employees who work in the testing center and in the neighboring factory also benefit from another element: a small percentage of the water where the fish and shrimp live must be changed regularly. All the water passes through filters returning to the fish tanks recirculation system, the excess feed and nutrients that are filtered out land in an outdoor canal where they serve as nutrients for various vegetables. The process, known in technical jargon as aquaponics, combines the breeding of fish in aquacultures with that of crop plants using hydroponics. “At the moment, we are cultivating lettuce, kale and bok choy,” says Fabio Soller, adding: “Our employees can take the products home free of charge. If they want, they can also donate small amounts of money which goes to a charity project for children.” Last but not least, the building stands for efficiency, especially in terms of energy. The heated air escapes through the roof and fresh air flows in through the open sides, so that no air conditioning is necessary. In addition, everything is illuminated with energy-saving LEDs – and planning is underway for the installation of a solar power system for electricity generation in 2021.
Incidentally, thereʼs no end to the experiments in sight. New regulations, the use of alternative ingredients and production methods by feed manufacturers make sure of that. “When manufacturers optimize their feeds and processes, we also have to adapt our products,” says Fabio Soller. Besides, the market is extremely dynamic, new raw materials are currently being tried out. “For example, weʼre taking a look at proteins from insects,” Fabio explains. “This includes the black soldier fly, whose larvae can be grown on leftover food and used to make hydrolyzed products. This is another step toward sustainability.”
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