Philippine seaweeds safe, says industry leader

By: Victor Anthony V. Silva September 07,2016 - 11:12 PM
Seaweeds (CDN FILE PHOTO).

Seaweeds (CDN FILE PHOTO).

GROUPS making claims that the seaweeds from the Philippines spread diseases should make sure their reports are based on thorough study as these statements are hurting local farmers, an industry leader said.

Maximo Richohermoso, chairman of the Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines (SIAP), said farmers have to deal with a decline in global demand for seaweed and these reports only make it worse for them.
“That’s not correct. The Philippines will not export pathogens through its seaweed,” he told Cebu Daily News.

Richohermoso was referring to a recent study funded by the United Nations (UN) that recommended tighter regulations on the worldwide seaweed industry to limit its damage to the environment.

The report said seaweed can sometimes cause harm, as well as, spread diseases and pests.

It cited a red seaweed from the Philippines as the source of a damaging bacterial disease called “ice-ice” that spread and infected new farms in countries like Mozambique and Tanzania.

Production cuts caused by ice-ice led to estimated losses of $310 million in the Philippines alone from 2011 to 2013, the report stated.

The UN University said 27.3 million tonnes of farmed seaweed were produced globally in 2014, amounting to $6.4 billion and up from almost nothing in 1970.

Seaweed is used in foods such as soup, sushi wraps and spaghetti, fertilizers and animal feed.

But Richohermoso disagreed with the study, saying that it was not well-documented and that it was probably just based on third-hand information.

“Ice-ice is not a disease, but rather a condition resulting from dying thallus (undifferentiated vegetative tissue), maybe as a result of changes in water condition where the seaweed is growing,” he said.

Sudden drastic changes in ocean water temperature such as too much heat during summer or sudden heavy prolonged rainfall can cause ice-ice, he added.

He said the UN should instead tap experts from the University of San Carlos in Cebu or from the University of the Philippines.

Richohermoso said he hoped the UN report would not be a precursor for a certain European grou Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)p that intends and proposes to certify seaweed farming in the Philippines, Indonesia, and other nations harvesting these plants.

“If there should be seaweed farming certification, it should be from experts from the Philippines and Indonesia,” he said.

The demand for seaweed worldwide has gone down in recent months due to the slow down of the global market.

Richohermoso said that in the Philippines, where 90 percent of seaweed harvest is exported, exports have gone down by 20 to 30 percent in the first half of 2016. However, he said he remained hopeful that prospects for the industry would get better toward the end of the year.

He said this decline can also be attributed to reports in the United States saying that carrageenan, or seaweed extract, is bad for one’s health.

“News like this will not help. Seaweed prices have gone down so low, farmers are already complaining. Consumers are responding to this scare,” said Richohermoso, also the president of MCPI Corp., one of the country’s biggest carrageenan manufacturers based in Consolacion, Cebu.

To cope, he said local manufacturers have to depend on the domestic market, which is less than 10 percent of the total demand, or explore other applications such as cheese binder.

He added that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), are already discussing ways to address these challenges.

SIAP will also hold a national seaweed conference from Nov. 23 to 25 in Cebu City to discuss and find solutions to the industry’s pressing issues.

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