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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Mussels to the masses

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    25 January 2022

    Cambridge scientists think that farming clams and mussels – with the help of a few innovations in food production and processing – could be the next big thing to provide sustainable nutritious food to the masses. 

    For thousands of years we have relied on the oceans to provide us with a bounty of nutritious food to support our livelihoods. Demand for fish and seafood is now higher than ever, increasing at twice the rate of annual population growth. Our oceans are struggling to cope. Nearly 90% of the large fish are already gone, 80% of our fish stocks are fully exploited, and there is a real risk of serious fisheries collapse by 2050. Aquaculture or fish farming is providing us with an extra supply, but 70% of this relies upon external food inputs, food which could have been fed directly to humans. Scientists at the University of Cambridge think that shellfish like mussels and clams could be our saving grace.

    Mussels and clams are known as bivalve shellfish, and are a highly sustainable and nutritious food. They have a lower carbon footprint than nearly all meat products and even many cereal crops, and are rich in protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and key micronutrients. When farmed they do not require feeding as they filter algae naturally present in the water, and the farms themselves help support marine ecosystems and improve water quality, 

    A team of researchers led by Dr David Willer (Henslow Research Fellow at Murray Edwards College) published an article in Nature Food, which provides a pathway as to how bivalve shellfish could meet mass-market consumer demand for seafood.

    The paper outlines key ways to increase bivalve production and dramatically improve meat yields. It explores mechanisms to improve food safety through novel food processing technologies and depuration innovations. The paper examines barriers to consumer uptake such as food allergen prevalence and bivalve preparation challenges. The researchers then provide a barrage of potential solutions to overcome these barriers, explaining how appealing and convenient bivalve food products could provide consumers with nutritious and sustainable seafood options – and contribute positively to global food systems.

    Dr David Willer said:

    Current limited consumer demand is perhaps the biggest hurdle to realising a vision of providing sustainable nutrient rich seafood like mussels and clams to the mass market. In the research here we outline novel technologies which can help build demand, such as high hydrostatic pressure processing to ensure food safety, and new methods which could enable the creation of bivalve based food products with a similar texture to our familiar favourites like beef or chicken.

    With a pathway planned out, the research team are now working alongside one of the world’s largest food manufacturers to begin to realise this vision of providing millions of people with sustainable and nutritious seafood