Note: Rheintek Latinoamerica and Kemin Industries sponsored a pet food industry trip to visit the Landes Seafood factory in Chile. The companies provided the pet food industry reporter with room, board, and transportation.
Along the coast of Chile’s Chiloe archipelago, sea lions swim among local mussels (Mytiles chilensis) clinging to ropes dangling in the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean. Seagulls soar overhead, and cormorants sway across the waves.
Native Chilean mussel farms increasingly meet many pet owners’ criteria Demand for sustainable ingredients used in dog and cat meals. The diversity of wildlife supported by a mussel farm stands in contrast to the environmental monotony of a livestock feedlot or poultry house. Likewise, mussel farming requires fewer resources than most livestock or fish, with the potential to combat climate change.
Besides chilean varieties, different types of mussels appear in dog and cat foods or foods in the pet food industry product database. These products include functional pet food formulations for joints and mobility, as well as treats and nutritional supplements.
Environmental sustainability of mussels used in pet food
Mussel farms require very little input from those who raise them, said German Naranjo, commercial director for Landes Seafoods. Aquarists collect non-swimming larval stages of mussels from freshwater streams and rivers into specialized nets. Mussel farmers release the larvae onto large ropes to which the mussels attach themselves. These cords hang in the ocean, and the bivalves continue their life cycle. Since mussel production uses only sea water, it does not compete for fresh water the way cows, pigs, and poultry do. Mussels are filter feeders, drawing plankton and other microorganisms from the ocean. As they do, mussels clean water and may reduce pollution from salmon farms if they’re nearby, Maureen Mahoney, director of corporate sourcing for Simmons Foods, noted during the tour.
Once the farmers reach the appropriate size, they pull the ropes using winches attached to barges. The cut mussels go to a processing plant where workers and machines separate them from the ropes. An automated line transports the mussels to be quickly cooked and then frozen. The process from fresh to cooked to frozen takes less than 30 minutes. Cooked mussels come out of their shells. The machines separate and collect the shells, which are used as fertilizer.
Mussels fight climate change
This shell fertilizer adds another environmental benefit to mussel farming. Mussels make their shells from calcium carbonate, using carbon dissolved in the ocean. By drawing this carbon out of the sea, mussels reduce ocean acidification and fight climate change.
Scientists from the Agricultural Research Council and the Economic Research Center for Livestock Production and Aquaculture have documented how mussel farms can act as a carbon sink. Mussel farming ends up drawing more greenhouse gases out of the environment than it releases. They published their findings in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Other studies, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production and the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, confirmed the potential of mussel farms as carbon sinks.
When they are harvested, the mussels bring back the carbon they used to build their shells. Other carbon sequestration methods, such as planting trees, can also fight climate change. However, there are a few other protein production methods that directly reduce greenhouse gas pollution and ocean acidification.
Besides the supportive ecosystems, these Chilean mussel farms support local communities, many of which have indigenous Mapuche heritage. During the pandemic, Landes has continued to support these communities despite restrictions on movement and factory closures. During the regular season, the Landes Seafood plant supports approximately 220 workers, processing 10 to 12 tons of mussels per hour. Every day, the factory produces 50 tons of finished product from November to July or August. The mussel industry is the second largest source of income for the Chiloe Archipelago after salmon and ahead of tourism. This income spreads through the community, supporting many small businesses.
In addition to the social and environmental sustainability aspects, mussels provide the important omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which support dogs and cats’ brains, hearts and other aspects of health. In addition to what mussels give, what they take away can be just as important. When mollusks build their shells, they absorb carbon from the ocean. While people have set up mussel farms, the presence of mussels is natural and helps maintain the ecosystem that feeds sea lions, birds, and other wildlife. Mussels filter water and can help control waste from salmon farms or other pollutants.