The Nordic countries have a long history of using seaweed in various ways, but in modern times it has not been a tradition to use seaweed extensively as food, apart from in industrial production of polysaccharides such as alginate.
However, interest is now growing in using seaweed in Nordic and other European countries, mainly because of the focus on a greener and more sustainable economy and consumers’ search for healthy and sustainable food.
Seaweed is considered to be a valuable food resource in the world, and production has many sustainable characteristics (FAO, 2022). The European Commission has launched an initiative that will focus on how to increase sustainable algae production, ensure safe consumption, and boost the innovative use of algae and algae-based products in Europe (EC, 2021).
Despite seaweed being the biggest aquaculture product in the world, with significant global trade (FAO, 2020), there are still no international standards on food safety, such as Codex standards or guidelines. Some of the significant gaps in regulations for food safety in seaweed, along with an overview of food safety concerns in seaweeds, are identified in a FAO-WHO report (FAO and WHO, 2022).
The EU also lacks specific legislation on food safety in seaweed. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified consumption of seaweed as an emerging risk, and the EU Commission has recommended monitoring of heavy metals and iodine in seaweed as a background for future risk management of seaweed as food and feed (EC, 2018).
There is limited experience of using seaweed as food, and knowledge is lacking about potential risks and benefits for human health relating to its consumption in Europe. Risk management of seaweed-based foodstuffs is a challenge, due to lack of knowledge and specific legislation and the many new business operators in the sector. Guidance for both producers and public agencies is required to ensure food safety, to facilitate uniform control and trade, and to support innovation and growth in this sector.
Regional differences, both globally and in Europe, in tradition, food culture, production methods, seawater quality, and types of seaweed species in use, favour a joint Nordic approach to the issue. This would support appropriate guidance for producers and food agencies in the Nordic region and ensure that Nordic species and production conditions are considered when legislation is developed in the EU.