Cargill working on plant-based omega-3 for aquaculture sector

© iStock/DmitriyDanilchenko

Cargill says it is developing omega-3 fatty acids from canola plants to realize a sustainable form of DHA and EPA and reduce reliance on fishmeal and fish oil. 

Though, it will likely be several years before such products will be commercialized, said Einar Wathne, president of Cargill Animal Nutrition’s aquaculture business.

However, the company is cultivating canola crops producing the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in a closed loop system.

“Aquaculture continues to grow in lock step with growing populations and economic development,” he told FeedNavigator. “The demand for omega-3 oil will inevitably outplace supply.”

The potential for a plant-based form of omega-3 oil could support expansion in the aquaculture industry and be a way to supplement the oil generated from fisheries, he said.

The development would also boost the overall sustainability of farmed fished production by reducing pressure on wild fish populations, said Wathne.

“Having a replacement option like this is important to help meet market demands,” he said. “EPA/DHA canola will enable the continued growth of this vital industry."

Research partnership with BASF

Cargill’s work on the omega-3 generating canola started as a joint effort with Germany-based BASF Plant Science in 2011, said Wathne.  

The canola in question is being field tested in Montana, and will be managed through a Cargill research facility in the same area.

“Cargill has just begun construction on a research station near Great Falls, Montana, to support plant breeding, agronomy and closed loop crop production for EPA/DHA canola,” he added.

The partnership between Cargill and BASF includes an agreement to collaborate on commercializing the omega-3 producing canola plants in 2020, said Wathne.

When publically available, the products will be marketed through the company’s current system, he said. 

As well as aquaculture and animal nutrition, potential other markets for a sustainable source of omega-3 include food and beverage, dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals.

Industry wide efforts

However, Cargill is not the only company interested in finding a replacement for the EPA and DHA components of fish oil. 

Bunge Limited and TerraVia announced the development of an algae derived DHA ingredient. Archer Daniels Midland also released a DHA-rich fish oil alternative in June.

Skretting spoke to us in October about the result of the collaborative effort between DSM and Evonik. Those companies have produced an EPA and DHA rich algal oil. And Alltech has produced an algae-based DHA product. It is being reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Additionally, a group of researchers in Canada has been exploring the use of camelina as a way to generate an substitute for the fatty acids in fish oil. We reported on their work in July.

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