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New seafood traceability standard caters to restaurants, fishmongers and fresh fish counters

The world’s leading sustainable seafood certification program has revised its requirements for seafood suppliers, processors and vendors. Following feedback from over 200 stakeholders around the world, the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) Chain of Custody Standard is now more streamlined, clear and accessible. 

The updated MSC Chain of Custody Standard includes a new specific set of requirements designed to work better for consumer-facing companies, such as restaurants, fishmongers and caterers. The standard also continues to offer a cost-effective ‘group chain of custody’ option for large organisations or groups of smaller businesses that wish to work together to get certified.

All MSC Chain of Custody audits must apply the updated standard from 1 September 2015. Certified organisations that have scheduled an audit before September 2015 should contact their certification body to verify when they will transition to the updated standard.

Standards apply to the entire supply chain for MSC and ASC seafood

The MSC Chain of Custody Standard ensures that only seafood from wild-capture fisheries certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard for environmentally sustainable fishing can carry the MSC ecolabel and claim. It is also used to ensure the integrity of the supply chain for responsibly farmed seafood certified to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) standard. Any organisation wishing to be part of the supply chain for MSC and/or ASC certified seafood must comply with the MSC Chain of Custody Standard in order for the end product to be sold with the MSC or ASC label or claim.

Over 2,800 organisations in more than 75 countries currently hold a Chain of Custody certificate. These organisations are responsible for handling over 28,000 MSC and 1,700 ASC ecolabelled products in around 100 countries.

Supply chain integrity is essential to engaging consumers

David Agnew, Standards Director at the MSC said: “The MSC Chain of Custody Standard ensures that consumers can have absolute confidence in claims about the sustainability and sourcing of the seafood they are buying. This is absolutely essential to engaging consumers in protecting our oceans for the future.

Whilst DNA sampling of seafood demonstrates that the MSC Chain of Custody Standard works, we recognise that industry does not stand still and that our program requires regular improvement. The updates announced today are the result of a year-long consultation with industry representatives. They mean that the MSC scheme is more straightforward and applicable to different companies along the supply chain. Additionally, a separate version of the standard now gives greater access to businesses at the end of the supply chain, allowing them to meet growing consumer demands for sustainable and traceable seafood products.”

Meeting industry needs

Organisations may now choose to be certified against one of three versions of the MSC Chain of Custody Standard, depending on the nature of their business:

  • Default: For single or multi-site organisations trading certified seafood
  • Group: For organisations with a central office function and many locations trading certified seafood such as co-operatives or franchises
  • Consumer Facing: For retailers, restaurants, caterers, fish mongers or fresh fish counters of any size selling or serving certified seafood directly to final consumers.

The new version of the standard for consumer-facing organisations was developed with extensive stakeholder input and piloted with six previously uncertified companies. Their feedback suggests that the new version is significantly more accessible and fit-for-purpose than the previous MSC Chain of Custody requirements.

Scott Taylor, Category Manager at Baxter Storey, a UK-based contract caterer which took part in the pilot, said: “For Baxter Storey the opportunity to continue to strengthen our understanding of sustainable sourcing is key. Working with the MSC to pilot this updated standard for consumer facing organisations has given our teams the opportunity to influence the development of a strong traceability system for seafood, so that it really works for them.

"We found that the updated standard is straightforward, logical and meshes well with our current systems. We have a strong focus on training so it is great that the updated standard places significant focus on this. Site level staff found it simple to implement and really see the value in conveying the sustainability message that MSC offers to our clients and customers.”

Key changes

Other key changes to the MSC Chain of Custody Standard include:

  • Clearer requirements for identification and traceability of certified products
  • More specific requirements for companies to confirm the certified status of products upon receipt, and to ensure they only purchase from certified suppliers
  • Greater emphasis on competency of staff in meeting the MSC Chain of Custody Standard, and more emphasis on interviews during audit, in addition to checking training records
  • Revised requirements for ‘under-assessment product’ (formerly ‘UMAF’) – now only fisheries, farms, or organisations that are named members of the fishery/ farm will be eligible to buy and store under-assessment product
  • MSC Chain of Custody Standard: Group requirements have been restructured and streamlined so they align better with the Default version of the standard
  • A more equitable and consistent approach for timing of surveillance audits has been introduced. Most companies will now be on annual surveillance audits, with very specific categories of organisations qualifying for a reduced 18-month frequency
  • A small percentage of surveillance audits (minimum 1% of clients for each certification body) will now be carried out as unannounced audits. These will be determined based on risk or randomly selected, and will replace a normal surveillance audit so there is no additional cost.

Summary of changes to the MSC Chain of Custody program >

Anyone wishing to find out more about the updated standard can join a stakeholder webinar on Friday 27 March 2015. Please email [email protected] to register.