Ask the Q is calling on retailers to better label their farmed seafood so consumers can make informed choices about how sustainable they are and to review claims that their products are responsibly produced.

The problem

Retailers are not providing sufficient detail on packaging about the provenance of their farmed sea bass, non-organic salmon and king prawns for consumers to meaningfully use the Marine Conservation Society's well-regarded Good Fish Guide to assess the sustainability of the product.

Contrary to most retailers’ claims of products being ‘responsibly farmed’, all farmed sea bass, non-organic salmon and king prawns need to be relabelled ‘eat occasionally’ as the highest rating they achieve in the Guide is a ‘not entirely sustainable’ 3.

Analysis*

In July and August 2016 Ask the Q visited 9 supermarkets and analysed the packaging of three of their own brand farmed seafood products: farmed sea bass, non-organic farmed salmon and farmed king prawns.

Ask the Q looked specifically for three things: country of origin, farming system and third-party accreditations. Ask the Q then wrote to all 9 retailers asking for this information and querying why it does not appear on the packaging.

Lack of transparency

Without at least two pieces of information, and in some cases three, the Good Fish Guide cannot be used to assess the sustainability rating of the non-organic farmed salmon, farmed sea bass and farmed king prawns.

All 9 retailers indicate country of origin on the packaging of their own brand farmed sea bass, non-organic farmed salmon and farmed king prawns but none indicate the farming system used or detail any third-party certifications (where applicable these are the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (GAA BAP), GlobalGAP or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)).

Of the 9 retailers Ask the Q emailed, less than half (4/9) shared details of both farming method and (presence or lack of) third-party certifications.** Of those who responded, Sainsbury’s were particularly reluctant to share the information.

Tesco only shared details of third-party certifications but not of farming systems, while Morrisons only gave details of the farming system for their sea bass but they clarified third-party certifications for all three products.

In the absence of any information it isn’t clear if the remaining 3 retailers Aldi, Asda and Lidl, who all responded to Ask the Q but failed to answer the questions, are stocking unsustainable 4-rated sea bass or unsustainable 5-rated king prawns (there is no such thing as 4- or 5-rated farmed salmon). There is no further information on their respective websites.

‘All our Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable seafood display the MSC logo. We feel that this is enough to allow customers to make an informed decsion [sic] regarding sustainability before purchase’ (Sainsbury's)

‘Co-op don't currently use logo's [sic] on their farmed fish because we use 3 schemes [ASC, GAA BAP and GlobalGAP]. ASC and GAA have logos, but use of both may be seen as confusing. GlobalGAP is a business to business scheme and as such does not have a logo we could put on products [this no longer the case – GlobalGAP now offer a consumer-facing logo]. Instead, we work to the Sustainable Seafood Coalition Codes of Conduct for Sourcing and Labelling of Fish - all of our fish sources are risk assessed and we prefer to state "responsibly sourced" on packs’ (The Co-op)

Unsubstantiated claims of ‘responsibly farmed’

Ask the Q believes that members of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) in particular – Co-operative Food, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – have failed to provide ‘sufficient assurance’ upon request to support claims of ‘responsibly farmed’ seafood as per the SSC’s Code of Conduct.

While a majority of retailers label most of their products as ‘responsibly farmed’ or ‘responsibly sourced’, with the exception of only two products*** all of the seafood analysed correlates with a ‘not entirely sustainable’ 3 or ‘unsustainable’ 4 or 5 rating. The Guide warns consumers that a 3-rated product should be eaten ‘only occasionally’ and it ‘should probably not be considered entirely sustainable at this time’.

It is worth reiterating that Asda label their farmed sea bass and their farmed king prawns as ‘responsibly farmed’ and Aldi label their king prawns as ‘responsibly sourced’ but neither shared farming method or third-party certifications with Ask the Q so it is not known if they achieve even a 3 rating.

Consumer action

  • ·Email/tweet (#AsktheQ) your preferred retailer:

o   Ask them to include the farming system and third-party accreditation (where applicable) alongside country of origin on all of their own brand farmed seafood packaging so that consumers can use the Good Fish Guide
o   Ask them to consider labelling 3-rated products as ‘eat occasionally’ items

  • Sign Ask the Q’s petition to Tesco’s CEO

Notes

*In July and August 2016 Ask the Q surveyed Aldi, Asda, The Co-op, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.
**Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, The Co-op and Waitrose.
***Neither The Co-op’s ASC-certified king prawns or Aldi’s farmed salmon from Chile have been rated yet by the Marine Conservation Society. 

 www.asktheq.org