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Labs Called to Ration Seaweed Use

red seaweed

Labs Called to Ration Seaweed Use

A global shortage of red algae seaweed has led to conservationists calling for labs to ration their use of the substance in their research. Thanks to the seaweed’s ability to create high quality agar which helps micro-organism cultivation in petri dishes, the substance has long been in great demand – but now it seems the current levels of usage are no longer sustainable.

The superpowers of seaweed have been widely explored in recent years, with an amazing 29,000 seaweed-based products launched in Europe in the past four years. As the natural qualities became widely known, seaweed has been used for a wide range of purposes, from biofuels to medicines.

However, as the clamour to use the substance increases, experts are concerned that seaweed stocks may be dwindling beyond a sustainable level.

Unfortunately calls to ration the substance may be incredibly difficult – with no viable, currently available alternative to the red algae seaweed. Many lab specialists believe that a microbiological lab simply cannot survive without the agar produced by the seaweed.  Additionally, agar is a popular food ingredient in Japan, an area with one of the largest stocks of the substance in the world.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, a supplier of laboratory consumables, is voicing their concerns about the prospect of the depleting stocks: “The key issues affecting supply are the quality and availability of the raw material. The yields of agar from last year’s harvest have been particularly low due to the variable quality of the seaweed. Seaweed quotas have also been lowered to ensure long-term sustainability and this, too, has affected the availability of raw material. At the same time, our consumption has been increasing.”

The wide-ranging uses for the red algae seaweed spread in the early 1980s, and the market for the substance grew on average by 3-5% every year throughout the 80s and 90s. Between 1999 and 2014, the annual value for the market grew from £420m to £770m.

Experts hope that by managing current consumption, it will be possible to arrest the current decline in seaweed stocks. Sustainable seaweed farming companies, such as Seaweed & Co, have been formed to ensure that the substance is farmed responsibly.

Craig Rose from Seaweed & Co, explained: “We are thousands of years behind agriculture – how often do you hear of someone hunting a wild cow? But the future is aquaculture. The idea is that you could be growing seaweed, sustainably, in the middle of Birmingham if you wanted, with no need for fresh seawater input. It’s highly controllable and saves using natural resources and risking disease transfer and other concerns linked to current at-sea aquaculture.”

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