A global expert said seaweed might be the “greatest untapped” food resource available to humanity, as he also highlighted barriers that stand in the way of reaching its potential.
Vincent Doumeizel kicked off B.C.’s inaugural Seaweed Days Festival in the Victoria suburb of Sidney Monday with a pitch firmly aimed at expanding public acceptance of seaweed as a food source.
“If you think of seaweed as being slimy, smelly and unsexy, it is time to get over it,” he said. “It’s a huge source of sustainable food with massive, massive potential.”
Doumeizel, senior advisor at the United Nations Global Compact on Oceans, as well as director for the Food Programme for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, was the keynote speaker at the event organized by the Sidney-based Cascadia Seaweed Corporation.
According to study, two per cent of the ocean being dedicated to seaweed production would be sufficient to feed 12 billion people.
“Seaweed is a nutritional bomb,” he said. “It’s full of protein, it’s full of Vitamin C and B-12, full of unsaturated fatty acids, which are so critical to our health and lots of other good stuff, which we cannot find anywhere else.”
B.C’s Coast Salish People have had a long history of consuming seaweed, and Doumeizel pointed to Japan and other parts of Asia as places where seaweed is a widely accepted part of local diet. But global development of the industry depends on more people getting used to the idea of eating it. While seaweed may have many other applications, “food is the keystone,” he said.
With humanity needing to feed 300,000 new people every day and land-based food systems making “massive” contributions to climate-change greenhouse gas emissions and soil depletion, humanity needs to develop ocean-based food systems, he said. He pointed out that oceans currently account for three per cent of global food supplies while covering 70 per cent of the planet.
“We need to develop food from the ocean,” he said. Ultimately, diets need to shift. “We all need to consider ourselves brand ambassadors and change our diets, and move toward seaweed or seaweed-based products if we want the world to change,” he said.
Apart from the cultural factor, the industry also faces barriers tied to the absence of global growing standards, and limited environmental requirements.
“In people’s mind, it is related to invasive species,” he said. “People are scared about what is new. There are very low levels of social acceptance. Social licensing is very low and permitting from national authorities is very complex as well. Seaweed may well be one of the most sustainable businesses in the world, but it is already easier to get permitting to pump oil out of the ocean than to cultivate seaweed.”
The seaweed industry remains labour-intensive for now and it is not clear yet where future markets will be, he said.
The recent creation of the Safe Seaweed Coalition aiming to create a safe, standard-based seaweed in helping to bring about what Doumeizel described earlier as the Seaweed Revolution along the lines of the Seaweed Manifesto published by the UN Global Compact.
Seaweed farming is a global business carried out in at least 56 countries worldwide in 2018, but more than 99 per cent of the production is found in Asian countries.
The inaugural Seaweed Days Festival festival runs March 17 to 22.
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