International sustainability certification standard GlobalG.A.P. recently released the sixth version of its standards for good agricultural and aquaculture practices, with an emphasis on the integration of new technological advances.
GlobalG.A.P. launched its first aquaculture standard in 2004, with a species-specific focus on salmon. In 2011, it shifted its standard into one that can apply to any fish-production system, and its latest standard has continued to evolve on that system.
Remko Oosterveld, an aquaculture expert with GlobalG.A.P., told SeafoodSource during the 2022 Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Spain, this new set of standards is taking a more forward-looking stance on how his organization's sustainability certification can apply to aquaculture, and beyond.
“Version six, it’s not only a new aquaculture standard, but also a new fruit and vegetable standard and a new floricultural standard,” Oosterveld said. “With version six, we are taking a forward-looking stance, like how to integrate more technology into certification.”
The standard has been the product of more than two years of work, he said, involving many meetings with stakeholders and public consultations that included 485 comments that the organization considered.
“It has been a huge undertaking,” Oosterveld said.
While within GlobalG.A.P., aquaculture is a relatively small activity – the company certifies over 200,000 agricultural companies in 140 countries, compared to just 350 aquaculture producers – on the global stage, it accounts for 2.5 million metric tons of seafood production in 34 countries.
“Even though aquaculture is a relatively small activity for GlobalG.A.P., it’s still a very important one,” Oosterveld said.
A big part of the new standard – officially released on 26 April, 2022, and called Integrated Farm Assurance (IFA) v6 – has two parallel editions: IFA v6 Smart, and IFA v6 GFS. The “smart” version of the standard is appropriate for most producers, according to GlobalG.A.P., while the GFS standard is for producers that require recognition by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
“We are recognized by GFSI, and GlobalG.A.P. is the only aquaculture certification on the farm level that is recognized by GFSI,” Oosterveld said.
Stakeholder feedback is a big reason why the certification now has two levels of standards, he said, as not all producers need to meet the GFSI rules and regulations.
“GFSI, they have a set of regulations and rules that any standard that wants to become recognized needs to comply with, and the GFSI has adopted some rules and regulations that GlobalG.A.P. is convinced – and this is also due to feedback from our stakeholders – that is not applicable or reachable for every producer,” Oosterveld said.
A major problem for some producers are the unannounced audits required by GFSI’s standard. For many aquaculture producers, an unannounced audit isn’t possible due to the logistics of farm locations.
“An unannounced audit, by definition, cannot be announced, and that might be, for some aquaculture producers, a bit of a tricky thing, because how does an auditor that is coming unannounced, how can he be transported safely to a net-pen?” Oosterveld said. “He needs a boat, and he needs protective clothing, and so on. So this is one thing that our stakeholders have been complaining about and saying ‘OK, this is not feasible.’”
The standards are the same, Oosterveld said, with the only difference between the two versions being the rules by which they are carried out.
“Even an [IFA v6] Smart-certified producer can still provide a lot of assurance on the food-safety aspect, but just can’t show that the processes are GFSI-recognized,” Oosterveld said.
A central goal of the new standard is to evolve how aquaculture operations can show compliance with the certification standards by using the many modern tools now available to fish-farmers, Oosterveld said.
“Obviously, farmers have more digital tools available. So they have their smartphones, sensors that record continuously for things like water quality, and they have better recording of production processes,” he said. “There are more means available for a farmer to show compliance.”
With those new methods of showing compliance in mind, GlobalG.A.P. has also shifted its standard to focus more on principles and criteria. The goal, Oosterveld said, is to have a more outcome-based approach instead of looking for specific measures like the organization had in its GlobalG.A.P. Version 5 standards.
Another key addition is additional animal welfare standards, he said.
“Animal welfare is currently a hotly debated topic, so we also tried to incorporate these comments into the aquaculture standard,” Oosterveld said.
GlobalG.A.P. standards already contained animal welfare guidelines – Oosterveld said about 20 percent of the control points were related to animal health and welfare. But the new standards, have augmented the assurance levels required of the control points, meaning the standard is more rigorous, he said.
Also on the animal welfare front is an upcoming ban on shrimp eyestalk ablation starting in 2024. Eyestalk ablation is a widely practiced method of encouraging more egg production in female shrimp by removing one or both of a shrimp’s eyestalks.
“That was the result of a meeting we had with a particular state retailer,” he said.
GlobalG.A.P. already had a control point stipulating animals should not be harmed unnecessarily, and while common practice, eyestalk ablation isn’t strictly necessary for farming shrimp, he said.
“We got feedback that farmers are able to do without eyestalk ablation, but it means they have need for a better management practices,” Oosterveld said. “But we also saw from research that females that are not ablated produce more-robust eggs and have less of a chance of dying out of stress.”
GlobalG.A.P.'s development of the new standard was led by a core desire to create tools for aquaculture operators to improve their processes, Oosterveld said.
“We wanted to create a tool for producers to be more-efficient with the use of their natural resources,” he said. “The aim is to provide producers with data to help them make decisions.”
One example of that process playing out is the data GlobalG.A.P. collects on greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of fish oil in feed, the feed conversion ratio, and mortalities, Oosterveld said. That data can then be aggregated into averages that producers can use to benchmark themselves in order to make sure they’re performing to an optimal level.
“They can see, 'OK, I have a higher mortality than similar producers in the same area,’” he said. “It might trigger for them, ‘OK, I need to work on biosecurity.’”
GlobalG.A.P. hopes this will result in producers adopting more-sustainable practices, he said.
“We tried to develop a standard that is fit for purpose, but can also be used as a guide for producers to be their at managing things, taking to account the aspects of food safety, the environment, animal health and welfare, and the workers’ occupational health and safety,” Oosterveld said. “It’s an additional verification, and an independent verification, that practices are done in a responsible manner.”
Photo by Chris Chase/SeafoodSource