At last, MSC eco-label has meaning

Published on
August 10, 2009

At long last the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has given some thought to consumers who for years have looked at the society’s blue eco-label on seafood packaging in supermarkets and wondered what it signified. The fish-shaped “tick” and the words “Marine Stewardship Council” in very small letters around the oval-shaped logo have meant nothing to most people who just want to buy good quality seafood at a reasonable price.

Now, at last, a new label has been produced containing the words “Certified Sustainable Seafood” and the MSC Web site for consumers who wonder what “MSC” means — only the initial letters of the group’s name are now provided.

In a long-winded consultation process, the new logo for products that have been certified as coming from a well-managed and sustainable fishery by the MSC, took 14 months to develop.

And even now it will be rolled out gradually as the MSC is not asking users to change over to the new label until their existing stocks of packaging have been used up. This seems fair enough, but the MSC admits that a complete changeover will take “two or more years.”

Meanwhile, some supermarkets themselves are providing an explanation of the original logo on private-label packs of MSC-certified seafood. Sainsbury’s is currently selling chilled Canadian peeled prawns with the words: “This product comes from a fishery which has been certified to the Marine Stewardship Council’s environmental standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery,” with “www.msc.org” printed under the old MSC label. Waitrose provides a similar explanation on some of its private-label packs.

Supermarket chains have embraced sustainable fishing like no other cause and are falling over themselves, and each other, to demonstrate that they care about the depletion of stocks in the world’s oceans. This attitude is only to be praised, although cynics would say that it is because the supermarkets realize that their seafood sales (and profits) will increase if they are seen to adopt this attitude.

So why has it taken the MSC so long to give a sustainability meaning to its logo? Some years ago the society was asked why it wasn’t doing anything to publicize its work to the general public. The answer was that it didn’t have the money and it was up to the retailers and their suppliers to do so.

Now, at last, a way has been found — top advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi designed the new logo for free for a start. It may just be a small step, and it was a long time in coming, but it is to be applauded nevertheless. The MSC claims that worldwide more than 2,500 seafood products bear its blue eco-label. From now on customers will begin to have some idea as to what that label signifies.

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