Sustainable seafood choices – making progress on fish labelling

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recent article by Which? examines information provided on some seafood products, arguing that many leading retailers and brands are not providing enough information for consumers to make sustainable choices. By law, labels are only required to state whether the fish is from a wild stock or farmed, and give a wide geographic area to indicate where it came from. Which? point out that, while some supermarkets choose to provide extra information, such as “caught by longline” or give a more specific capture area like the North Sea instead of ‘North-east Atlantic’, many only cover their legal obligations. The article also suggests that looking for independent certifications, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, can help shoppers to recognise sustainable products quickly.

In January 2011 ClientEarth examined 100 labels on supermarket seafood and found numerous self-declared environmental claims, with a lack of coherence between supermarkets. This was one of the key drivers for ClientEarth founding the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC). The SSC is coalition of major UK seafood businesses (including most of those investigated by Which? in their report), whose vision is to ensure all fish and seafood sold in the UK is from sustainable sources. One of the SSC’s 10 aims is to work to address consumer confusion over seafood labels through its voluntary code of conduct on labelling.

The code will set out criteria for members to make their own environmental claims on seafood. Since all members will be basing their claims on the code, this will mean a level playing field and consistent claims, ensuring that consumers will be able to shop safe in the knowledge that claims are meaningful and harmonised across products, retailers and brands.

The SSC is a voluntary coalition, and recognises that it is not a legal requirement to provide exact information on catch method and area. However, members are encouraged to provide this extra information and, where they do, must do so in a clear and accurate way, to avoid confusing shoppers.

The SSC members are working hard to finalise the labelling code (the first in a series of voluntary SSC codes), so watch this space!

image: davidascher

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