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Seaweed in the UK food system: pitfalls and pathways to scaling up sustainably

Fallon, N. ORCID: 0000-0002-6997-2719, Rivera, X. S., Anguilano, L. & Paterson, S. K. (2022). Seaweed in the UK food system: pitfalls and pathways to scaling up sustainably. In: Bruce, D. & Bruce, A. (Eds.), Transforming food systems: ethics, innovation and responsibility. (pp. 454-459). Wageningen Academic Publishers. doi: 10.3920/978-90-8686-939-8_71


Within an increased global focus on the Blue Economy, seaweed has the potential to play a much larger role in the future of the UK food systems contributing to multiple environmental, economic, social and health benefits. Seaweed is currently used along the UK food chain as fertiliser, animal feed, in food processing, and as a low-carbon, nutrient dense food source. Mapping conducted using publicly available online sources identified 60 seaweed producers operating in the UK in 2021. These are predominantly small-scale harvesters and producers operating under a range of business models. However, with new enterprises entering the market involving larger scale industrial production and mechanised harvesting methods, the UK seaweed industry appears to be at the precipice of major changes. Scaling up the industry is seen as a priority for UK and devolved governments and an attractive sustainable investment option for venture capital. However, the potential impacts on the marine ecosystem and coastal livelihoods from an expected rapid expansion are currently unknown. In addition, regulation of the industry and the complex land and sea policy landscape is yet to be fully explored within the context of an expanded seaweed industry. Efforts have been expressed by government and industry bodies to ensure industry growth protects coastal communities and does not come at an environmental cost, but questions remain with regards to rapidly shifting power dynamics and industry pressures to deliver returns on investment in a global market. This paper will draw on examples from historical attempts to scale up seaweed production as well as other food-related industries to identify potential pitfalls for the industry to avoid if it is to find a path towards sustainable and responsible growth. More attention needs to be paid to the political economy of the seaweed industry, in particular the influence of powerful market actors and how this may impact the trajectory of the industry.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This chapter has been published in Transforming food systems: ethics, innovation and responsibility by Wageningen Academic Publishers.
Publisher Keywords: algae, aquaculture, sustainability, political economy
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
[thumbnail of Scaling up seaweed final paper Author version.pdf]
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