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Proposed protocol to evaluate safety in seaweed production

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By Milthon Lujan

Generic protocol for discussing seaweed safety. Source: van den Burg et al., (2023); Aquacult Int.
Generic protocol for discussing seaweed safety. Source: van den Burg et al., (2023); Aquacult Int.

Seaweed is no longer just a slimy garnish on the beach or an ingredient in sushi. It is being hailed as a revolutionary resource, an opportunity to promote the bioeconomy, and could reach a value of US$11.8 billion by 2030. In Europe, efforts to cultivate seaweed in marine farms are intensifying, driven by its promise as a source of biofuels, food, and industrial materials. However, increasing seaweed production is not as simple as planting and harvesting. Safety concerns abound, ranging from environmental impact to worker welfare.

The good news is that we are not diving into this seaweed boom with our eyes closed. Regulatory frameworks exist that cover food safety, environmental impact, and worker protection. But here’s the problem: they are fragmented, a patchwork of guidelines and variable practices. This makes it difficult to ensure consistent and responsible seaweed production across the board.

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In this context, scientists from Wageningen University & Research, Solent University, and Arctic Seaweed developed a risk assessment protocol that encourages professional dialogue between seaweed producers, buyers, and others involved in the seaweed value chain, focusing on three dimensions: food safety, environmental safety, and occupational health and safety (OSH).

Protocol for seaweed safety

The researchers developed a generic protocol and tested it in a case study, which was then evaluated, following the principles of prototyping. The protocol was initially based on a review of the available literature and consultations with stakeholders.

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The resulting seaweed safety protocol is like a safety roadmap, a shared language for addressing the various risks associated with seaweed aquaculture. By analyzing existing literature and consulting with seaweed farmers, processors, and regulators, the team behind this protocol developed a flexible framework for assessing safety throughout the seaweed production chain.

According to the study, the protocol consists of five steps that facilitate a shared understanding of hazards and risks, prioritization and risk assessment of the remaining hazards by seaweed farmers, and the next steps to be taken for a seaweed farmer’s risk assessment.

Real-world testing

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And it doesn’t just stay on paper. The protocol was put to the test at a Norwegian seaweed farm, a real-world trial by fire. The results were promising. The structured approach helped to identify key hazards, prioritize data collection, and guide safety discussions within the industry. It is important to note that the protocol recognized that risks vary by location and farming practices, making it adaptable to different contexts.

This is an important step forward. The generic protocol provides a common ground for discussing and managing safety, allowing for a smoother transition to large-scale seaweed production. It focuses data collection on the most pressing hazards, ensures that resources are used effectively, and encourages collaboration within the industry.

The pilot test of the protocol in Norway demonstrated its effectiveness. By applying the framework, stakeholders were able to:

  • Identify the hazards relevant to their local environment and their aquaculture practices.
  • Focus data collection efforts on the most critical hazards.
  • Generate safety discussions across the sector, generating a common understanding of risks and mitigation strategies.
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Application in seaweed aquaculture

Of course, the journey is far from over. The protocol needs further refinement and testing in various environments. But its success in Norway demonstrates the power of a unified approach to seaweed safety. By working together, scientists, regulators, and industry actors can address the challenges and unlock the immense potential of this sustainable ocean-grown resource.

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Seaweed is increasingly recognized for its benefits to marine ecosystems, food security, or job creation. However, there are still concerns about its safety when used as food or the negative environmental impacts it could have. In this sense, the protocol helps to unify the criteria for assessing the hazards and risks of seaweed cultivation.

Although the protocol has been designed for the European reality, the fundamentals of it can be adapted to other regions of the world where seaweed is part of people’s diets.

Conclusion

“The results show that a consistent and structured approach to safety allows for the identification of hazards and the prioritization and collection of data on key hazards. The protocol facilitated a sector-wide discussion on safety, providing a shared language for talking about safety,” the researchers conclude.

This article is just a starting point. Dive deeper into the fascinating world of seaweed safety by exploring the original research article, learning more about the generic protocol, and participating in the ongoing conversation about responsible seaweed cultivation. Remember, by prioritizing safety, we pave the way for a seaweed-powered future that benefits both people and the planet.

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Safe Seaweed by Design was commissioned and funded by the Lloyds Register Foundation.

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Contact
S. W. K. van den Burg
Wageningen Economic Research
Part of Wageningen University & Research
P.O. Box 29703, 2502, LS, The Hague, the Netherlands
Email: sander.vandenburg@wur.nl

Referencia (acceso abierto)
van den Burg, S.W.K., Koch, S.J.I., Banach, J.L. et al. Learning to discuss safety within the European seaweed aquaculture sector. Aquacult Int (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10499-023-01358-3

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