It’s not quite farm-raised fish sticks, but the big agricultural firm Cargill may have moved our food supply a step closer.

The feed maker and commodities trader announced that the U.S. Agriculture Department deregulated its plant-based omega-3 fatty acid supplement fed to farm-raised fish. Farm-raised salmon are fed fish oil to boost their omega-3 fatty acid content to desired government levels. 

Problematically, that oil is derived from small fish, and scientists have said their populations are threatened as a result of massive harvesting. A land-based way to provide fish farms with essential omega-3 oils in their feed is a big step for sustainable fisheries. Cargill’s Latitude product is made from canola seeds.

 “Capturing fish to feed fish doesn’t provide a way to increase the total amount of fish available on the planet,” Scott Nichols, founder and principal of Food’s Future and chairman of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, told Karma. “The shift now to these land-based ingredients means that the ceiling that existed on fish farming is now dramatically extended upward.” 

  • Cargill isn’t the first to enter the plant-based omega-3 market: Veramaris, a joint venture of European giants Royal DSM and Evonik, began production of its algae-based omega-3 oil at a factory in Nebraska last month.
  • “Taking a fish oil supplement for omega-3 is not the same as eating a fish,” said Nichols, explaining that traditional land-based sources of omega-3s, like avocados and walnuts, don’t have the same essential omega-3 fatty acids that fish produce — but the canola blend from Cargill does. 
  • Cargill’s announcement is the latest in a series of recent milestones for plant-based proteins: the first vegan ETF will hit the NYSE this fall, the Impossible Burger is making its debut as the Impossible Whopper in 7,000 Burger King restaurants in the US this week, and Beyond Meat recently inked a deal to take its meat-free products to Dunkin’ doughnut shops. 
  • Karma Takeaway: A more sustainable approach to fish farming is the first step toward much wider commercialization of plant-based omega-3 in farm feed. Given the myriad health benefits of omega-3 for humans — the driving reason for infusing it in fish feed in the first place — it likely is only a matter of time before omega-3-enhanced land meats, like chicken, start appearing on supermarket shelves.