Rooted in the seabed about 30 meters off shorelines around the world is one of the ocean’s many majestic secrets. While not exactly buried treasure, the seaweed harvested or cultivated by locals contains the raw properties that provide a tremendous value to food and pharmaceutical industries. Several tons of seaweed are harvested and cultivated from these areas every year, which makes it imperative that everyone involved in its production works to protect the environment, both above and below water.
Preserving the naturalness of our world’s beaches and oceans takes substantial commitment from countless people the world over. On land or under water, Nutrition & Biosciences is committed to being a world-leader in sustainable environmental solutions. We have been focused on these practices for more than a century. In fact, our seaweed initiative is a part of our strategy to develop and implement sustainable sourcing program for 90% of all bio-based raw materials.
As sustainability continues to grow as a worldwide movement, we continually look to improve and lead the way and use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a guide. In celebration of World Oceans Day, take a look at our quest to improve Life Below Water and how our initiatives also help to enhance the lives of many people above it.
We Believe In Getting Our Feet Wet… Literally
As Nutrition & Biosciences is one of the world’s largest buyers of seaweed for hydrocolloids, we have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on our oceans. We believe that real leadership on behalf of the world’s oceans should not just involve sustainable practices, but also the need to take a step further … right into the ocean itself. It’s what keeps us closely connected to our purpose. As we look to protect crucial marine ecosystems and increase the economic benefits for local areas, we know it all starts our relationships with seaweed farmers and harvesters all over the world.
For decades, we’ve worked hand in hand with thousands of seaweed farmers in Southeast Asia and the Western Indian Ocean and with our harvesters along the coast of Norway. Nutrition & Biosciences has a team of experts to help them responsibly source carrageenan and alginate from cultivated and ocean-harvested seaweeds. We are often literally in the ocean, discussing sustainable approaches to planting, growing and harvesting seaweed.
We also have a passion for educating suppliers about the profession. Our seaweed teams often walk house to house along beaches and shorelines to share the benefits of seaweed farming. In Northeast Madagascar, for instance, seaweed farmers earn a much higher income than that from other possible work. Moreover, seaweed farming provides steady income due to the short grow-out periods (six weeks) and year-round production. Rice, by contrast, involves a four-month growth process and only yields one or two crops per year without irrigation.
In the 1970s, Nutrition & Biosciences handed out comic books to explain how families could make a living as seaweed farmers. Today, the walls of seaside buildings serve as makeshift screens for PowerPoint slides. No matter the forum, it’s part of our ambitious effort to educate and develop working knowledge for all on sustainable practices. In turn, they become good stewards of their farms and the surroundings they depend on for their livelihoods.
While our history roots us in incredible seaweed farming communities, Nutrition & Biosciences is also always looking to invest in the future – inventing and improving mariculture practices, creating science-based management systems and developing a new age of sustainable practices. Today, Nutrition & Biosciences is continuing to lead in seaweed management through its collaboration with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.
Together we developed a first-of-its-kind sustainable seaweed program to help move the industry towards more sustainable seaweed harvesting and cultivating practices. A key product of Nutrition & Biosciences’s seaweed management program is a set of Better Management Practices (BMPs) that were developed by an independent Expert Advisory Group of leading social and environmental experts representing industry, academia, and non-profit organizations. The BMPs include social and environmental criteria and help anyone any step in the seaweed supply chain to mitigate risk and evaluate and improve performance over time. From social criteria like worker safety and treatment to environmental criteria including the protection of coral reefs and limiting shading on sea grasses, we’re first assessing our own performance through the review process to generate feedback about how to continually improve our performance and efforts.
We are launching this program in our Norway location and will then expand to our seaweed suppliers around the world. As the program continues to be refined, we will share it industry-wide in the hope that the entire seaweed supply chain will use it to improve practices and share in the benefits of more socially and environmentally responsible seaweed.
Once our seaweed is carefully harvested and arrives at our processing facilities, we use it to extract two of our most important hydrocolloids: carrageenan and alginates that then go into many foods and pharmaceuticals around the globe.
Our carrageenan sourcing can be traced back to Marine Colloids of Maine which traced its history to the initial commercial carrageenan operation in Massachusetts in 1847. This company invented the cultivation of tropical carrageenan seaweeds with the University of Hawaii in the Philippines in the late 1960s. Derived from red seaweed, carrageenan is often used to thicken many favorite foods, including ice creams, yogurts and cottage cheese.
Our experience in alginates reach back even further to the 1920s and 1930s, when we began to source alginate shortly after the practice was commercialized in San Diego, California by Kelco and in Norway by Protan.
Known for being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Norway is now the key location of our alginate production. Near the foot of resplendent mountains and breathtaking fjords, we worked with scientists and the government to develop an effective science-based management system of the harvest that protects the resource while assuring a reliable supply of seaweed from the country.
The seaweed harvested from these waters is used to extract alginates. In addition to serving as a thickener in foods, alginates are also used as active ingredients in pharmaceuticals, particularly in anti-reflux applications. The ingredient serves as a barrier, preventing food acids from encountering the stomach during digestion.
Our Sustainable Seaweed Program will start in our Haugesund, Norway location. This video highlights the work we’ve done and will do to become the world’s best example of a sustainable seaweed management program.