US farm management company, Stevia Corp, has formulated stevia-supplemented fish feed in a bid to drive sustainable aquaculture and increase production volumes across Asia.
The stevia firm has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Singapore-based seafood firm, Fish International Sourcing House (FISH), citing plans to distribute prawns and fish, nourished with stevia feed to global markets. A definitive contract is set to be signed soon.
The development of Stevia Corp’s stevia-supplemented feed application was a collaborative effort with TechNew, a Chinese biotechnology company.
Farmers will be contracted to cultivate fish with the stevia feed application, utilising sustainable practices and FISH will then be responsible for the post-harvest processing, freezing and distribution of the products, George Blankenbaker, president of Stevia Corp, said.
“We want to promote a stevia quality mark that represents natural and healthy ingredients and sustainable farming practices,” Blankenbaker told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Stronger with stevia
Research has indicated that stevia aids immunity and digestion, he said, and “when you create a stronger immune system, you make both your production more economical, as there is a higher survival rate, and also cut down on the need for antibiotics.”
If tests show that supplementing feed with stevia improves the health and survival rate of fish or prawns and reduce the usage of antibiotics, the wider industry implications will be significant, the president noted.
He said he is not aware of any large scale commercial applications of stevia-supplemented aquaculture feed, placing it as a novel usage of the plant extract.
Blankenbaker revealed that there are also on-going tests on stevia usage post-harvest as a value-added ingredient and as a preservative application but investigations into this are at the early stages.
“Sustainability is becoming a huge buzz-word among the industry… [and] There is a demand for a more natural, sustainable food supply from both the industry and consumers,” he said.
Consumers are also becoming environmentally aware and conscious, he said, and while many do not know exactly what stevia is, they have “an impression that it is something natural, good and healthy.”
“We want to leverage this perception and further educate them on the benefits of the stevia plant,” he added.
Datamonitor research pegged the total revenue of Asia Pacific’s aquaculture industry at US$87bn in 2010 and has forecast it to hit US$135bn by the end of 2015.
Stevia Corp added that seafood contributes to around 50% of animal protein consumption across Asia, and so sustainable programmes aimed at driving production are essential.
Singapore-based FISH has processing facilities and offices in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand and its main markets include China, Southeast Asia, the EU, Middle-East and Russia.
The stevia-nourished fish will be sold fresh to the Chinese market, Blankenbaker said, and frozen to international markets.