Commission set to unlock potential of EU algae sector
Last week the European Commission published its long-awaited Algae Strategy, following from the Farm to Fork Strategy highlighting algae as an important source of alternative protein. Eurogroup for Animals welcomes the EU having a specific and targeted approach to supporting the emergence and development of the algae sector, especially as a source of nutrition and protein for human consumption in a more sustainable European food system.
Demand in Europe for food and drink products containing seaweed more than doubled between 2011 and 2015, and annual growth rates for two major algae species are expected to keep rising at 6.4% and 8.7% respectively in the years ahead. The increasing vegan and vegetarian population in Europe is identified as one important driver.
The document, entitled: Towards a strong and sustainable EU algae sector sets out 23 actions to create opportunities to grow the algae sector to meet envisaged EU demand. Current challenges include high production costs, limited knowledge of markets and consumers, limited knowledge of risks and impacts, and a fragmented governance framework. Uses of algae in Europe include for human food, animal feed, bioremediation and environmental restoration, and chemical products including biofuels, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other emergent industrial uses.
Until now, the Commission has supported the sector through its fishery subsidy regime and research funding programmes. Additional actions under the new strategy include operating a new stakeholder platform, EU4Algae, developing technical standards for extraction processes and algae derived products, generating knowledge through consumer surveys and life-cycle assessment studies, and raising the profile of algae-based products through food labelling and public procurement initiatives.
The Commission will also develop guidance to promote replacing fish-based feed with algae-based products. In its Strategic Guidelines on Aquaculture, the Commission has already identified the importance of aquaculture transitioning to low-trophic species, and this algae initiative should follow that principle and avoid further embedding the outdated approach of farming carnivores.
The new strategy highlights that the expansion of seaweed cultivation at sea should not affect the equilibrium of marine ecosystems, and acknowledges the importance of avoiding reproducing in oceans the same environmental mistakes that have been made on land.