Algae: Not Just Dinner For Sea Life Anymore

Fish provide a source of protein that has a number of health benefits for humans. Wild fish such as salmon and mackerel feed on marine algae and contain beneficial fatty acids particularly DHA omega-3. These oily fish are believed to help prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, decrease depression and improve skin problems just to name a few.

Many consumers are aware of the health benefits they get from DHA omega-3. They eat a variety of oily fish or take daily fish oil supplements to maintain their general health. But what many consumers and farmers are not aware of are the beneficial applications in animal diets.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that animals and humans cannot efficiently produce in their bodies, it must be consumed through diet. Fish oil is the most common dietary source of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Fish oil fed to livestock ensures a healthier animal and a healthier final product for the consumer. However, due to limited availability, sustainability issues, contamination risks, inconsistency and the increasing price of fish oil, some farmers are opting to use cheaper alternatives high in omega-6, for example DDG, vegetable oil, cotton seed oil and sunflower oil. These alternatives are lacking in DHA omega-3 limiting the health benefits to the animal and creating the opportunity for alternative DHA sources necessary for optimal animal nutrition.

Researchers are focusing on algae for their application to the feed and food industries as a highly sustainable source of protein and DHA omega-3. The focus on obtaining EPA and DHA from plant-based algae was prompted by an endeavor to seek out a more sustainable alternative to fish oil.

Algae form the base of the aquatic food chain. They can naturally produce carbohydrates, oils, protein vitamins and organic minerals that feed crustaceans and up the food chain to fish that are later processed to make fish meal and fish oil for animal feed and human nutritional supplements. This is not a sustainable practice. By substituting algae, the base of the marine food chain, as a natural source of DHA, farmers have the opportunity to return essential fatty acids back into the diet. Animals receive similar health benefits to those that humans see when taking a fish oil supplement. These benefits are attributed to DHA omega-3, which can generally improve the balance of fatty acids in the feed to restore the proper ratio of omega-6: omega-3, thus able to promote immune function, reproductive performance and animal health. Maintaining the proper fatty acid ratio in the animal can minimize veterinary costs, leading to increased savings and improving the sustainability and profitability of livestock operations.

Additionally, the animal agriculture industry is uniquely positioned to provide natural functional foods that are wholesome, sustainable, and kind to animals. This can be achieved simply by returning essential fatty acids back into feed supplies. The animals enjoy the performance benefits, while farmers produce a premium, naturally enriched product for their consumer, thus broadening access to the health benefits in the human diet. This approach stands in sharp contrast to traditional food fortification practices in which supplemented nutrients are simply piggybacked onto foods during processing, often delivering nutrients in forms the human body cannot efficiently absorb and utilize.

Understanding particularly how DHA omega-3 affects the overall health of the animal leads to the development of competitive feeding strategies that are the key to animal performance and profitability. Farmers are looking at incorporating microalgae as the differentiator within the marketplace to improve the health and productivity of their animals. By enriching the feed naturally, farmers produce healthier animals, provide consumers access to healthier diets and offer retailers more natural and wholesome products.