Seaweed steps into sustainability spotlight with certification scheme

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Natural environment Sustainability

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) have launched a certification standard for sustainable seaweed production. "This is a very big deal," one seaweed manufacturer told us.

Launched this week, the standard was two years in the making and sets minimum requirements for environmentally sustainable and socially responsible seaweed that has been either wild harvested or farmed.

Both macro and microalgae from fresh and saltwater sources can apply.

Which label? Products from different seaweed production categories will carry different labels.

It identifies a number of performance indicators that manufacturers, suppliers and producers must adhere to if they wish to bear the ASC or MSC logo in a number of fields such as environmental impact (including waste management, pest control and energy efficiency); social responsibility (such as working hours, child labour and health insurance) and sustainable wild populations (harvest strategy and stock status).

It is the first international seaweed standard that brings together the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) guidelines as well as the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance's (ISEAL) code of good social and environmental practice, according to the ASC and MSC.

CEO of the MSC Rupert said: “The new standard offers responsible seaweed producers an opportunity to earn international recognition for their efforts.”

To read more about the certification requirements and external audits, which is open not just to the food industry but also to manufacturers and suppliers of cosmetics, medicines and fertilisers, click here.

Clearing up confusion

Willem Sodderland, founder and CEO of Seamore, a Dutch start-up which makes whole and unprocessed, seaweed-based products such as ‘pasta’ and ‘bacon’, said industry had waited a long time for a certification scheme, and the launch was “a big deal​”.

“It’s important because, as most people know, seaweed is one of the most sustainable foods on the planet but we need to make sure we keep it that way.

“[Until now] there has been no universal standard – in some countries there was but not in others - and that creates confusion. It also opens up the

wakame salad. seaweed, algae tbralnina
Wakame seaweed salad © GettyImages/tbralnina

possibility of people not respecting the environment,"​ he told FoodNavigator.

“We also notice our customers, such as larger retailers, are very interested in seeing what the sector is doing to keep up the positive image of seaweed especially on the sustainability side.”

When Seamore began sourcing seaweed from France and Ireland, Sodderland said it had to develop its own sustainable harvesting standards “because there were none​”. 

It worked with scientists and an independent environmental agency that advised on how seaweed grows back after being cut and how the eco-system behaves.

'We're in this for the long term"

So, will the push for sustainably sourced seaweed be driven mostly by B2B ingredient suppliers or manufacturers of consumer-facing products?

It’s hard to say, said Sodderland, adding that the main factor driving growth of seaweed remained its associated health halo.

Despite this, there was a “small but vocal​” number of consumers pushing the environmentally friendly aspect, and companies were not oblivious to their influence.

“A lot of companies active in seaweed are keen to push the sustainability side because we’re in it for the long term. We don’t want the same thing to happen in seaweed that has happened in fishing or other parts of agriculture.”

Getting certified

Manufacturers and suppliers that want to sign up must have been in business for at least one year, or one harvest cycle, whichever is less, and have available records of performance data.

Howes said seaweed was a valuable resource for coastal communities and supports a growing global industry.

“Seaweed also absorbs significant amounts of CO2 helping to regulate our climate, provides important habitats and protects coastlines from erosion. It is therefore essential that seaweed is harvested in a way that allows both communities and the environment to thrive."

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