The European Commission has presented the EU4Algae platform to boost the production and use of algae through a three-year plan to develop its industry and attract new species to the EU market. The platform, which will come into operation in the summer, aims both to promote the consumption of this foodstuff and its use in other European business activities.
To this end, the Commission will launch an action plan at the end of the year to promote its consumption among EU member countries. The EU wants to strengthen its weak international position against powers such as China or Indonesia.
Together with CINEA and a consortium (comprised of EurA AG, EABA, Systemiq, Technopolis and s.Pro), the Commission is launching EU4Algae. This 3-year project will accelerate the scale-up of a regenerative, resilient, fair and climate friendly algae industry in Europe, and bring more novel algae species to the EU market.
This entity is articulated as an information hub for projects and a space for collaboration between farmers, producers, distributors, consumers and technology developers, as well as investors, companies, researchers and NGOs.
The initiative is part of the ‘From Farm to Fork’ strategy, as part of the European Green Pact, in which Brussels has set the objective that algae become an alternative source of protein to those of animal origin in line with the progress of the new vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian trends.
Improve the European position in the international market
Beyond the nutritional interest of algae, their commercial use from a sustainability approach is increasingly widespread in industries such as the manufacture of biodegradable plastics. In this sense, the Community Executive also seeks to improve the European position in the international market of an industry made up of just 375 companies that employ some 4,000 people in the EU.
Algae are produced and consumed throughout the world for centuries. They are appreciated in especially Asian cuisine for their high nutritional value and distinct salty or umami taste. In recent years, they are becoming a standard ingredient as well in western vegan dishes.
Promoting underwater biodiversity
Outside of the culinary realm, algae have turned into a go-to feedstock for sustainable industrial applications, such as biodegradable plastics. Moreover, their production helps improving ocean health by reducing carbon dioxide, phosphorus and nitrogen in marine ecosystems. They are also a nursery and hide-out for many marine animals, promoting underwater biodiversity.
“Despite all the above, the uptake in Europe of algae production and consumption is slow. So the European Commission is stepping up the game.”
The platform will be a unique space for collaboration among European algae stakeholders including algae farmers, producers, sellers, consumers, technology developers as well as business-support organisations, investors, public authorities, academia, researchers and NGOs. It will also act as a single information hub on algae funding calls, projects, business-related information, intelligence and best practices.
The collaboration platform will be online by the summer 2022. The EU4Algae platform will draft recommendations to those initiatives and support their implementation.
The Spanish case
In the Spanish case, for example, and according to data from the Spanish Aquaculture Business Association (Apromar), some 5.2 tons of macroalgae suitable for direct human consumption of Laminaria and Gracilaria species were produced in 2019, with an industrial concentration in Andalusia (83%) and Galicia (17%). In the case of microalgae, commercial production was barely 8 tons.
This token production contrasts with major powers such as China, which produced 18.5 million tons, Indonesia (9.3 tons) or South Korea (1.7 tons).
Sustainable food system and global food security
In its ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, a key component of the European Green Deal, the Commission stated the ambition for algae to “become an important source of alternative protein for a sustainable food system and global food security”.
In last year’s strategic guidelines for sustainable aquaculture, the Commission highlighted the role of seaweed cultivation in climate mitigation (through carbon sequestration) as well as climate adaptation (e.g. nature-based coastal protection).
And by the end of 2022, the Commission will release an EU Algae initiative accompanied by an Action plan to promote algae in Europe.