Seaweed farming needs tighter regulation to limit damage to the environment after booming into a US$6.4 billion business with uses in everything from sushi to toothpaste, a UN study said yesterday.
The report said seaweed can sometimes cause harm and spread diseases and pests.
One Asian seaweed brought to Hawaii has smothered some coral reefs by out-competing local plants, the study said.
“There’s very little regulation” in many nations, said Elizabeth Cottier-Cook, lead author of the UN University study.
“You can take a plant from the Philippines and plant it in east Africa,” said Cottier-Cook, who also works at the Scottish Association for Marine Science.
A damaging bacterial disease known as ice-ice, for instance, has spread with a red seaweed from the Philippines and infected new farms in nations such as Mozambique and Tanzania.
Cuts in production caused by ice-ice caused losses estimated at US$310 million in the Philippines alone from 2011 to 2013, according to the report.
Globally, about 27.3 million tonnes of farmed seaweed were produced in 2014, worth US$6.4 billion and up from almost nothing in 1970, the UN University said.
Seaweed is used in foods such as soup, sushi wraps and spaghetti, as fertilizers and as animal feed.
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