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UK Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) has given £50,000 to Rare Earth Global, growers of industrial hemp for a range of sustainable products, to explore how hemp seeds could be integrated into the diets of farmed salmon in Scotland.

Also with the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture support, the project team has initiated a feasibility trial looking at several factors. Such as digestibility and nutritional value.

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Most importantly, Rare Earth Global’s zero-waste approach to hemp farming includes using hemp seeds as an effective protein source. Consequently, every part of the plant is used for maximum value.

Besides, SAIC indicates a protein content of up to 50% could be achieved from the plants grown on UK soil. Exceeding producers’ minimum requirements of 35%, as well as reducing the sector’s reliance on imported ingredients such as soy and fish meal.

Therefore, Rare Earth Global expects to be the largest UK-based hemp processor by 2024. Contracting up to 5,000 hectares. Finally, the team confirmed they have already had positive discussions with some of Scotland’s major seafood producers and feed manufacturers.

List of benefits

Suneet Shivaprasad, managing director and co-founder of Rare Earth Global, highlighted the potential of this source: “The hemp seed trial is about making the best use of local ingredients. Hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants. Using minimal water and capturing up to eight times more carbon than most trees. This makes it a highly sustainable choice for so many different products and materials.”

“Our studies show that protein conversion rates in salmon are much higher than for cattle or poultry. Highlighting the significant potential for the sector to introduce it as a new, sustainable feed ingredient. The process could be scaled up very quickly. We could see an entirely new UK-based supply chain for fish feed emerging in the near future,” he added.

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Human consumption potential

On the other hand, Monica Betancor, lecturer at the Institute of Aquaculture, explained its impact: “We already know that hemp protein is suitable for human consumption, which is highly promising. But this trial will help us better understand its impact on fish diets including gut health and digestibility. There may also be additional nutritional benefits. Such as anti-inflammatory properties. We aim to gather appropriate data. So, can be used to inform future decisions about the suitability of this new feed ingredient.”

Furthermore, Sarah Riddle, director of innovation and engagement at SAIC, concluded: “Rare Earth Global’s entry into the sector represents an exciting opportunity for a new low-carbon feed source that could see reductions in imports from overseas. The circular model of production is equally important. Highlighting the opportunity for a range of different sectors to make use of ingredients that may have otherwise been considered as waste.”

According to SAIC, hemp-based protein is already sold for human consumption. As a plant-based nutritional supplement as well as being used in cattle and poultry farming. However, this study’s results could see locally grown hemp being introduced as a core feed ingredient in aquaculture for the first time.

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