Seafood report is typical Greenpeace – that’s not a good thing
Greenpeace’s newest assessment of the world’s retail seafood contains praise for some companies and good advice concerning sustainable seafood, but what the report did wrong is impossible to ignore and will likely do little to improve the activist group’s credibility with the seafood industry as a whole.
The latest version of the report, Carting Away the Oceans, came out last week. It is typically dismissed by the seafood industry as an annual public shaming Greenpeace does to promote boycotts of retail outlets, and sadly this year’s edition does not disappoint. The report lists 25 of the world’s largest grocery retailers, ranking the sustainability of their seafood offerings based on a scoring criteria devised by Greenpeace itself.
At the top of the list, Greenpeace praised Whole Foods, with Hyvee, Safeway, Wegmans and Target close behind. The group gave each of the top five retailers glowing praise, along with scornful remarks to the bottom five. Most of those which came in last were pretty small chains, but notable was Publix, which came in 23rd on the list (only Save Mart and A&P ranked worse).
“Publix (ranked 23rd) is now the only top ten U.S. retailer (by gross revenue) to fail this report,” Greenpeace wrote. That drew a response from Publix, which insisted it does plenty to ensure its seafood is sustainable. The company simply didn’t disclose any of that to Greenpeace.
To be fair, Publix didn’t go into great detail describing its sustainability policies when speaking to the media either, but for Greenpeace to rank a major retailer near the bottom even in part because it didn’t get a callback is unscientific at best, and childish and petty at worst. Clearly, Greenpeace isn’t taking into account the possibility that a chain simply may not want to engage with the group, as opposed to having something to hide.
Among Greenpeace’s other key criteria for judging the retailers is seeing how many species a retailer sells that are on the group’s “Red List.” This dubious list contains species that are, in Greenpeace’s estimation, in too much danger to be fished and/or sold at all, and any retailer that sells them, no matter what the circumstances, gets a bad mark from the NGO.
The list, available on Greenpeace’s website, has been panned by the industry in the past in part because it includes some species, such as grouper, which may or may not be sustainable based on where it is fished, making it inaccurate to write the whole species off as untouchable. More troubling is a lack of any raw data or citations of source material in the list to back the group’s assessments. The entire list, like the retail report, has a tone that suggests Greenpeace’s opinion is so credible it requires no explanation.
Worse, Greenpeace makes it clear in the retail report that it trusts no one else’s assessments beyond its own. While many retail chains insist they are getting their seafood from sources certified as sustainable, or buying from fisheries or farms actively involved in Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) or Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIPs), Greenpeace stands by its belief that its red list is the last word on the subject.
In the report’s advice to the retail sector, Greenpeace wrote: “Even if certified as sustainable by a third party or captured/raised in a FIP or AIP, there are some fisheries or farms that simply should not be patronized due to overfishing, destructive fishing methods, or labor abuse. Similarly, there are certain species of fish and shellfish that, based on their physiology and life history, are unable to support significant fishing pressure.”
Does Greenpeace really expect us to accept that simply because it says so? To ignore multimillion-dollar improvement programs designed to help fisheries and seafood farmers do a better job? To ignore assessment programs created by nonprofit organizations and based on current science that are helping the industry prove it’s doing the right thing when it comes to sustainability?
Most foolish of all is the group’s advice to consumers. Some of it makes sense: Know what you’re eating and where it comes from, ask questions, voice your opinion on sustainability and demand proof that seafood is not connected to deplorable human rights abuses. All of this is excellent counsel to the seafood consumer.
But then there’s this: “Eat less fish. Today’s demand for seafood far outstrips what can be delivered from sustainable sources. Reducing seafood consumption now can help lessen the pressure on our oceans, ensuring fish for the future.”
Yes, Greenpeace actually said to eat less fish. In many countries, including the United States, public health officials have repeatedly said people need to be eating more fish, not less, citing countless medical studies as proof. While some critical thinkers may legitimately quibble with some of the finer details, we can all agree with the point – that fish and other seafood are good for us, so good that we could all stand to have a little more of it.
If Greenpeace stopped at urging people to educate themselves about what they’re eating, if it had bothered to include more raw data, or links to credible sources, or if it had not thrown mud at other well-meaning environmental NGOs, this report would have been much better. As it is, Greenpeace fell back on its familiar pattern of declaring itself the authority on the subject and giving oversimplified advice that will do as much harm as it does good.
In other words, Greenpeace took it too far – again.