Cecilia Ruiz, Manager Spain & Portugal, Bord Bia – The Irish Food Board
The Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN), under the Ministry of Health, has issued a recommendation that the intake of fish with a high content of mercury (like swordfish, Northern Bluefin tuna, seal shark, shortfin mako, spiny dogfish, lesser spotted dogfish, blue dogfish and pike, among others) be limited to 3 or 4 servings per week. In particular, women who are pregnant, planning to start a family, or breastfeeding should be wary. Furthermore, children up to the age of 14 years old, should limit their intake to approximately 120g per month.
Methylmercury affects the development of the central nervous system – particularly locomotor and auditory function. It also causes weight gain. In line with the Health and Wellbeing trend identified by Bord Bia, people are adopting “a holistic approach to physical health and emotional wellbeing”. Therefore any negative coverage on specific food categories in the press is really taken on board by consumers.
Due to other issues such as high prices and the cooking skills and time required, the presence of the parasite Anisakis, images of oceans full of plastic, and of large numbers of dead fish after environmental catastrophes, seafood consumption in Spain had already started to decrease. According to the 2018 Food Consumption Report in Spain of the Ministry of Agriculture, the per capita intake of fish stands at 23.07 kilos per person per year, an amount 2.8% lower compared to 2017.
On top of this, the Department also shone a negative light on the meat industry proclaiming that fish is “an excellent alternative" to meat, describing it as "much healthier" and highlighting the lower "environmental impact" that it has. The organization also took a swipe at red and processed meat, stating that it can increase the appearance of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Nutritionists are also recommending that people "prioritize" protein intake through legumes, as the FAO has repeatedly recommended.
In 2017, 6.3% of Spaniards over 18 years of age declared themselves flexitarian, 1.3% vegetarian and 0.2% vegan, adding up to a total of 7.8% of the adult population either reducing or cutting out meat. In January 2019, vegetarian diets had grown in popularity by 27%.
Naturally, this announcement has caused concern in the industry, as even suppliers of seafood that is low in mercury fear that they may be tainted by association.
Spain is a key market for Irish seafood exports with a value of 73.6M euros in 2018.
2018 Food Consumption Report in Spain of the Ministry of Agriculture: https://www.mapa.gob.es/es/alimentacion/temas/consumo-y-comercializacion-y-distribucion-alimentaria/panel-de-consumo-alimentario/ultimos-datos/
Marketing News “Healthy Food & Brand’, Kantar Worldpanel and Lantern. https://www.marketingnews.es/investigacion/noticia/1155692031605/espanoles-interesados-comida-saludable.1.html
Consumer Lifestyle Trends - Health and Wellbeing. (2019). https://www.bordbiaconsumerlifestyletrends.ie/
CSO Ireland: https://www.cso.ie/en/