‘misrepresentations of products can occur’

Aquaculture Stewardship Council sees potential in DNA seaweed testing

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

ASC: “Testing can help provide assurance that ASC/MSC certified products are correctly labelled and also help identify any areas of concern.” © iStock
ASC: “Testing can help provide assurance that ASC/MSC certified products are correctly labelled and also help identify any areas of concern.” © iStock

Related tags Food additive Food processing Codex alimentarius

DNA testing and verification of seaweed can be useful in an increasingly busy sector where quality varies and manufacturer demands are rising amid stricter regulations, an aquaculture group has said.

Responding to yesterday’s launch​ of a DNA seaweed testing service in the UK by Geneius Laboratories in conjunction with bulk seaweed ingredients supplier Seaweed & Co, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) said there was value in the offering, even as it develops its own standards to meet retail requirements and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs).

“ASC has not previously done its own DNA analyses specific for seaweeds, but agrees that it is possible that such misrepresentations of products can occur,”​ said senior communication manager, Contessa Kellogg-Winters.

“Traceability is one of the key aspects of the ASC/MSC [Marine Stewardship Council]​ systems, which include special Chain of Custody standards ensuring that only products from certified fisheries/farms use the MSC/ASC ecolabel.”

Many seaweed varieties are gaining value as whole foods and because of their payload of nutrients like potassium, magnesium and iodine and food additives like carrageenan and agar.

These extracts are commonly formulated into foods, functional foods and food supplements, but some stakeholders have been raising red flags about adulterated product.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation​ (FAO) around 25 million tonnes of seaweeds and other algae are harvested every year, representing over 15% of the total world fisheries and aquaculture production globally, with an estimated annual value of €5.2 billion.


Contessa Kellogg-Winters

Kellogg-Winters said DNA testing could help improve the quality of the supply and inform its developing standards as had a recent trip to Japan to assess the regulatory lay of the sea there.

“We believe such testing could be useful in the future,”​ she said. “Testing can help provide assurance that ASC/MSC certified products are correctly labelled and also help identify any areas of concern.”

“MSC are already using DNA testing for fish, and we are aware of some of the latest work here relating to seaweed.” 

Useful…but not for all types of seaweed

red algae seaweed shakzu

Juliana Klose, project manager in Fish & Seafood working for the Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) which promotes processed seaweed from Indonesia, said yesterday demand for such testing was likely to be limited to wild-harvested, cold water seaweed varieties.

"In the case of the red seaweed-derived food additive carrageenan, it is highly unlikely that DNA testing will be an established industry testing method in the future, especially taking into account the costs for testing and the small concentration in food products - between 0.02 and 1.5%.” 

Klose said traceability systems were being improved at seaweed farms in Indonesia with the Smart-Fish project, financed by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), attracting interest across the region.

Seaweed & Co – which sources its wild Ascophyllum ​seaweed from the Scottish Hebrides islands, sells its seaweed ingredients mostly into food supplement channels for salt replacement and nutritional enhancement with EU-approved, iodine-based health claims.

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