Confusion reigns supreme over sustainability
By Mike Urch, SeafoodSource contributing editor
07 May, 2012
It’s a sustainability jungle, was how Dr Nguyen Huu Dzung, VP of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), summed up the morass of aquaculture certification schemes currently being pushed by various NGOs.
Dzung was speaking at the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) press conference held at last month’s European Seafood Exposition in Brussels.
Mind you it was difficult to hear Dzung, or to see the slides in his presentation, as the organizers held the conference in a very small room so not everyone who wanted to attend could get in. However, this didn’t stop one person from the audience interrupting with his own message to the annoyance of the NGO officials, and another person in a ‘shrimp’ costume who wanted to hand out leaflets. It seems as though not everyone was in tune with the ASC.
Dzung’s message was that there are too many certification and rating systems, but limited transparency on the systems’ performances. This, he said, leads to confusion and mismatch between producers and key markets; unnecessary costs for certification (duplication and conflicting requirements); opportunities for ‘green-washing’ schemes; and reduced consumer confidence due to inconsistent messaging.
Earlier in his presentation Dzung had listed five sustainability certification schemes that were being touted in Vietnam for its pangasius producers to take up – SQF 1000, Global GAP, BAP, the new ASC and the country’s own Viet GAP. No wonder the industry is confused as to which one to adopt.
And as for the consumer, Dzung’s next slide was filled with more than 20 logos – admittedly not all specifically ‘proving’ that the package to which they were affixed contained sustainably sourced seafood – so no wonder confusion reigns in the marketplace. And it’s a safe bet that most consumers neither know nor care what the logos stand for.
The certification process is very costly and Dzung pointed out that Vietnam’s producers do not obtain higher prices for pangasius that has been certified. The same price applies across the board because the exporters are competing heavily against each other for orders.
The NGOs that draw up certification schemes often state that they don’t benefit financially when they are adopted – it is the independent certification companies which do they say. However, this claim arouses some scepticism within the seafood industry. ‘It’s all about egos and money,’ said one executive at ESE who did not want to be named.
Meanwhile an official from a farmed fish organization said that sustainability certification schemes were ‘a gigantic con; they are just a gigantic marketing exercise.’
However, Vietnamese pangasius farmers don’t have the luxury of opting out of these schemes, despite not being able to recoup the costs of certification by charging more for their product. Importers are insisting that they adopt one certification system or another, presumably because their customers – the big retail and catering chains – are insisting on this too.
So is anyone going to win in the sustainability accreditation battle? There is certainly no love lost between the NGOs themselves. Again at ESE, an official from one NGO told how staff at another NGO’s stand would have nothing to do with staff at the first stand.
Perhaps the last word should go to the WWF. With its iconic panda logo, perhaps the WWF would be better engaged in devoting all its efforts in trying to save another iconic animal, the elephant, which is fast disappearing in Africa, rather than in setting up yet another aquaculture sustainability accreditation organization in the ASC.
Does the aquaculture industry need the ASC to compete with all the other already established sustainability accreditation schemes? Dzung obviously has doubts and he is surely not the only one.
07 May, 2012