Food & Water Watch believe's that the US government should extend country of origin labels to all seafood products. (Photo: Food & Water Watch/FIS)
Seafood certification schemes unreliable: Food & Water Watch
Friday, December 10, 2010, 00:50 (GMT + 9)
Various private fish certification programmes that tout themselves as imposing responsible standards and labels to evaluate and market seafood as “environmentally friendly” or “sustainably produced” do not actually tell the reader much about seafood, according to consumer organisation Food & Water Watch.
De-Coding Seafood Eco-Labels: Why We Need Public Standards – the group’s new guide - compares and contrasts private certifications such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and Friend of the Sea (FOS). The guide determined that private eco-labels do not comprise satisfactory indicators of sustainable seafood choices.
“People often think that if they buy seafood with an eco-label, it’s automatically a good choice,” said Executive Director of Food & Water Watch Wenonah Hauter. “Unfortunately, these certifications don’t assure that the product consumers are getting is actually eco-friendly.”
The group’s analysis of numerous eco-labels found inadequacies pertaining to environmental standards, social responsibility and community relations, labor regulations, international law and/or transparency. The findings include:
• Flawed fisheries are often certified: Some schemes use their eco-label to motivate a fishery or farm to improve its methods, and consumers have no way of knowing whether their seafood originates from a fishery having vowed to improve or one meeting all the criteria for an eco-label. Some critics claim that often few improvements are achieved after certification.
• Sustainable fisheries and farms might not be certified: Because paying for certification can be expensive, some sustainable fisheries might not be labeled as such because they cannot finance the cost.
• Conflicts result from labels used for marketing purposes: Eco-labels are often mainly used as a marketing instrument, meaning that certifiers depend on certifying many fisheries to improve their reputation and market share - which can result in objectionable certifications.
• Carbon footprints are often ignored: Most eco-labels lack “food miles” in their standards and can be eco-labeled for sale even thousands of km away from the seafood’s source.
• They do not meet the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) guidelines: FAO has standards for eco-labeling and certification programmes, but they have been shown lacking in regard to the standards on transparency, reducing damage from pollution and contribution to rural development and food security.
The guide notes that the US Government must take action by providing consumers with more meaningful ways to decide whether the seafood they buy is environmentally and socially friendly. The government should extend country of origin labels (COOL) to all seafood instead of only that which is not “processed”.
It should also set up a scheme to define and confirm claims made by labels about sustainability, among other recommendations.
“We need government standards,” Hauter said. “And they need to be rigorous so consumers can make truly informed decisions about what seafood to buy.”
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By Natalia Real