GLOBAL – The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have released a report that reviews the food safety information currently available about seaweed harvested from both wild stocks and aquaculture.

The document reports that morbidities and mortalities linked to the consumption of seaweeds are rare, but cautions that the limited data raise concerns that certain hazards may be present in seaweed.

These include: chemical hazards such as heavy metals (principally inorganic arsenic and cadmium), persistent organic pollutants (e.g. dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls), radionuclides and pesticide residues; microbiological hazards (e.g. Salmonella spp., Bacillus spp., and norovirus); physical hazards (e.g. metal pieces, glass splinters, crustacean shells, micro- and nanoplastics); and allergens.

The Report of the Expert Meeting on Food Safety for Seaweed – Current status and future perspectives was consolidated during a joint FAO-WHO Expert Meeting on Seaweed Safety, which was held virtually on 28 and 29 October 2021.

FAO and WHO developed this report to identify food safety hazards (microbiological, chemical and physical) linked to the consumption of seaweed and aquatic plants and recommended further discussion as well as international guidance.

Among the recommendations are the collection and evaluation of seaweed consumption data at national and regional levels and the monitoring of seaweed food and feed products for food safety hazards.

They also recommended a risk assessment/risk profiling of the relevant seaweed hazard groupings to ascertain their public health significance.

FAO Fishery Officer Esther Garrido Gamarro explained that following these recommendations could support the development of Codex guidelines or standards at the international level as well as regional and/or national legislation.

“In turn, the standards and policies would safeguard the production, processing and utilization of seaweed for food and feed while protecting the health of consumers,” she said, explaining that this analysis could provide a basis for undertaking further work in this area.

Between 2000 and 2018, the production of seaweed, also known as marine macroalgae, increased by more than thrice, from 10.6 million tonnes to 32.4 million tonnes.

Seaweed and seaweed products saw a USD 5.6 billion increase in global trade in 2019 alone.

As the population increases and sustainable food production methods are sought after, the demand for seaweed is anticipated to remain high, says FAO.

Around the world, seaweeds have long been consumed as food.

The type of seaweed, its physiology, the season in which it is produced, the waters in which it is produced, harvesting techniques, and processing are only a few of the variables that can influence the existence of hazards in seaweed.

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