The Fine Line Between Aquaponics and Factory Farms

intensive aquaponics photoEcoFilms Australia/Video screen capture

Using Liquid Oxygen to Grow Even More Fish

It's a complicated world. On the one hand environmentalists strategize on how to end factory farming. On the other, we get excited about the potential for urban aquaponics to help feed the world. But at what point does a space- and resource-efficient method of growing animal protein and vegetables become just another form of factory farming?

Like most questions related to animal rights, the answer will depend on your starting point. But this isn't the first time we've discussed whether aquaponics is cruel or not.

intensive aquaponics stocks photoEcoFilms Australia/Video screen capture

For this video, brought to us by EcoFilms Australia, we visit the rooftop farm at Green Sky Growers in Florida, where they use liquid oxygen and high protein fish food (presumably made of other fish) to produce 1lb of fish for every gallon of water. (The film makers warn people not to try liquid oxygen at home, apparently "one small failure will destroy your entire output of fish".)

Intensive Aquaponics basil photoEcoFilms Australia/Video screen capture

That's an awful lot of fish for a teeny tiny space. There are inherent efficiencies in aquaculture that are not true to to land-based animal farming (quite simply, water-based animals don't need to fight gravity or regulate body temperature, so entropy is reduced). There are also specific efficiencies of aquaponics over aquaculture, with the waste from one process becoming the resource for the other. And the fact that these guys are growing local produce and fish using rainwater and other sustainable inputs to do so should no doubt be applauded.

But those efficiencies must be weighed against animal welfare and health issues. When a grower reports that the fish develop an "off taste" at these densities, it might be a warning sign that the balance is a little out of skew. It's not something I have a definitive answer for, but it's a conversation that needs to be had. I was a little surprised that the video makes no mention of cruelty or welfare issues, but then it is just an extract of a larger DVD.

Please share your thoughts below.

The Fine Line Between Aquaponics and Factory Farms
A rooftop farm in Florida boasts 1lb of fish for every gallon of water. Is that progress, or is it cruelty?

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