ClientEarth’s Sustainable Seafood Coalition – get standard right before label

30 January 2012 - 12:45pm -- Gerry Danby

A few weeks back I wrote a piece posing the question: How do we know when fish is sustainable and responsibly sourced? I looked at two then both recent reports, one from the Pew Environment Group and the other from the Marine Conservation Society, apparently at odds with each other on the question whether Marks & Spencer offer sustainable fish. In brief, the disparity boiled down to the fact that compliance with a sustainable fish standard not up to the job does not deliver sustainable fish.

In The Guardian today we read, on the face of things, good news about a ‘Sharp rise in sustainable seafood products on sale in UK’. The number of fish and seafood products certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) rose 41% to 988 in 2011, although just five species – cod, haddock, salmon, tuna and prawns – comprise 75% of what we eat. The MSC is not without its critics who say it has expanded too rapidly and, by implication, not properly vetted fisheries before their approval. There are now 13,000 MSC certified products in 80 countries worldwide. All seem to agree, however, that sustainable fish labelling is often confusing and unhelpful and needs to be improved.

ClientEarth, a group of activist lawyers working in defence of the environment, has set up the Sustainable Seafood Coalition which includes 16 of the biggest seafood suppliers and retailers in the UK, including most of the big supermarkets. The Coalition is working to draw up voluntary codes on sustainable seafood sourcing and self-declared sustainability claims, to ensure clear and accurate information is given to consumers.

The Coalition is expected to publish and implement its fish and seafood labelling code later this year. Whilst we should wish the Coalition good luck, all attempts to provide clear and consistent food labelling must be applauded, the outcome must not be based on a sustainable fish standard which is the lowest common denominator, that would be a disaster. Every member of the Coalition should be provided with a copy of the PEW report: How Green is Your Eco-label? A Comparison of the Environmental Benefits of Marine Aquaculture Standards as required reading. Get the sustainable fish standard right before the label.

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