News and opinion

Credible ecolabels create consumer trust

April 25, 2016

A cold food storage counter with seafood.

A cold food storage counter with seafood.

Camiel Derichs, Regional Director of Europe at the MSC, on why setting minimum requirements for seafood ecolabels is a good idea.

Recent independent market research shows that globally 63% of seafood consumers look for ecolabels for a trusted source of information. The MSC has earned this trust. Since our formation in 1997, we have developed the world’s most recognised certification and ecolabelling program for sustainable wild-caught seafood.

Our program is having lasting impacts on ocean health: it has contributed to over 600 tangible improvements in oceans including bycatch, habitat impacts, stock management and scientific knowledge. And you can trust what you eat: DNA analysis shows 99.6% correct labelling of species in MSC labelled products. This compares with a global average of only 70%, or 94% reported by the European Commission.

This is the reason why companies such as Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Carrefour, Metro and IKEA have gone to great lengths to transform their supply chains in order to commit to MSC certified seafood.

The rise of ecolabels

Unfortunately, consumers’ preference for ecolabels has led to the rise of poorly governed and managed labels and claims with low level standards and without transparent procedures. Such ecolabels do not meet guidelines set by the UN FAO and fail to offer traceability to businesses and consumers.

The European institutions can put an end to this practice by setting minimum requirements.  For seafood ecolabels to earn trust they must be built on the principles of sound science, accountability and stakeholder involvement. Third party verification is essential.

Setting requirements for seafood ecolabels

We at the MSC would welcome a European initiative to set minimum requirements for establishing and operating seafood ecolabels. Such requirements should include stakeholder involvement, independent verification, inclusive and transparent assessment procedures, and tangible results in marine ecosystems.

I do not think it is wise to invest in setting up a new European seafood ecolabel. It would run contrary to current public and industry concerns about proliferation of labels and clarity of the differences between them. Additional challenges would include the significant costs of setting and maintaining standards, quality control of assessments, governance, marketing etc.

If operated to minimum criteria, seafood ecolabels provide a strong reinforcing and complementary market mechanism for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), not a replacement of it.

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