Canadian Report Ranks Eco-Labels on Seafood Products

A University of Victoria report released today (Dec. 7) ranks eco-labels intended to distinguish seafood produced with less damage to the environment. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, this is the first study to evaluate how eco-labels for farmed marine fish compare to unlabeled options for the marketplace.

“How Green is Your Eco-label?” is designed to help seafood buyers sort through competing sustainability claims and better identify those labels that result in farming methods with less damage to the ocean.

The report concludes that many eco-labels are not much better than conventional farmed seafood options when it comes to protecting the ocean environment.

“Scale is a big challenge for eco-labels,” the report said. “For the most part, eco-labels are awarded based on an individual farm’s environmental footprint.”

John Volpe, a marine ecologist at the University of Victoria and lead author of the report, said research shows that “most eco-labels for farmed marine fish offer no more than a 10 percent improvement over the status quo.

“With the exception of a few outstanding examples, one-third of the eco-labels evaluated for these fish utilize standards at the same level or below what we consider to be conventional or average practice in the industry.”

The authors used 10 environmental factors to assess the eco-labels, including antibiotic use, the ecological effect of farmed fish that escape from pens, sustainability of the fish that serve as feed, parasiticide used, and industrial energy needed in aquaculture production.

According to Chris Mann, director of Pew’s aquaculture standards project, the eco-labels can help fish farmers produce and consumers select environmentally preferable seafood, but only if the labels are based on meaningful standards that are enforced.

Man said that seafood buyers at the retail or wholesale level should demand that evidence of sustainability be demonstrates, no merely asserted.

The report concludes that government policies and regulations, as well as effective eco-labels, are necessary to limit the environmental impacts of production.