When we are talking about weed in the context of aquaculture, we usually refer to seaweed. In this case, we are talking about hemp, which belongs to the family of cannabis plants that have many colloquial terms, including “weed”. And cannabis plants typically contain cannabidiol (CBD) which is frequently used in many over-the-counter (OTCs) preparations these days to self-medicate syndromes like the irritable bowel syndrome. The more interesting substance of cannabis is THC, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive ingredient that leads to the release of dopamine in the body. This gives you a euphoric, relaxed feeling. And there are currently debates in Europe to legalise the use of cannabis. Luxembourg already legalised growth and use for personal use last year.
But what does that have to do with aquafeed? Many companies have started to grow hemp in view of the potential legalisation of cannabis use across Europe, as well as for various industrial uses. One of these companies is Rare Earth Global, headquartered in London. The company sells hemp seed as a replacement for soy in aquafeed. Different to soy, hemp seed contains only very low levels of anti-nutritional factors and is well known for its excellent digestibility. The project was co-funded by UK Seafood Innovation Fund with the goal to grow sustainable industrial hemp as an ingredient in salmon feed.
So if we look at the range of sustainable aquafeed ingredients over the last months, we have seen seeds from the drumstick tree and the humble ragworm, as well as the use of protein hydrolysates of poultry by-products, and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation funded project for low-cost aquafeed. This area is clearly driven by the various innovations.
To continue to drive innovation in this sector it takes specific skills and an understanding of the needs of the industry. This is where the EIT Food funded AGAPE project can contribute by matching jobs and skills, and recommend upskilling and reskilling where necessary.