By Katherine Tu, SumOfUs
Recently, SumOfUs announced a victory on one of our flagship campaigns that we have been running over the past six months: British supermarket Sainsbury’s has removed krill-oil supplements from its shelves!
Krill, a tiny creature of which there are billions, is a critical source of food for the Antarctic ecosystem. In fact, a single blue whale can eat a mind-boggling 3.5 tonnes of krill a day—40 million of the little crustaceans! And it is not just the blue whale that relies on krill for its food; many fish species, penguins and seals also feast on them. In fact, krill is what is known as a keystone species: it is foundational to the whole ecosystem, directly or indirectly providing more than 90% of the dietary needs of all Antarctic species.
But despite its critical role in the Antarctic ecosystem, unscrupulous fishing companies are vacuuming krill from the Antarctic Ocean to make an unnecessary product: Omega-3 supplements. “Krill oil” brands such as Vitabiotics, Megared and Bioglan are being retailed as luxury products in health food shops and supermarkets — despite the lack of evidence as to their health benefits, but clear evidence of their ecological harm. Aside from Omega-3 supplements, krill is often fed to farmed fish; it can also be found in pet food. Humans are an unwelcome intruder in the krill food chain.
The use of krill in supplements, farmed fish and pet food would not be too much of a worry if krill population numbers were healthy. Instead, these are showing alarming trends. Numbers have dropped by 80% over the last 40 years; and the outlook might be bleaker still. Antarctica is at the front line of climate change. Average surface temperatures across the continent are projected to rise by 0.34 °C per decade, while sea ice is likely to decline by 3% in the same time period- or a mind-boggling 250,000 sq km. Krill depend on sea ice for their food and habitat, so this is not good news. One would think that in a context of such steep decline and with such an alarming prognosis, we would be taking urgent steps to protect krill populations. Quite the opposite: the market for Omega-3 supplements is growing and China has recently announced that it will increase the catch of krill seven-fold.
That some retailers (such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in the US and now Sainsbury’s in the UK) should refuse to sell krill products is therefore a key step forward for ocean conservation and the protection of the Antarctic ecosystem. The industry has to change its way, while it is still in its infancy.
SumOfUs will continue tirelessly with our campaign until krill-oil is removed from the shelves of all retailers. As a next step, we are reaching out to other UK retailers to raise awareness of unsustainable exploitation of Antarctica. Vitabiotics, Megared, Bioglan or any other krill-oil brand that go to great lengths to fool consumers with sustainability labels, are not needed for a healthy human diet, but they are indispensable for healthy oceans. This needs to be said loud and clear. Without krill, there would be no whales, no penguins, no seals. I loath to think of a world in which we are all deprived of these extraordinary, majestic and simply adorable species.