SeaChoice says majority of Canadian suppliers’ environmental claims unverifiable
Canadian seafood suppliers need to better back up their sustainability and sourcing claims, the non-governmental organization SeaChoice said after an investigation into the labels of seafood products from companies such as High Liner and Aquastar.
SeaChoice is a partnership among the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, and Living Oceans Society, which focuses on increasing consumer awareness around seafood sustainability in Canada. In its “Certification, Verification, or Fabrication” report, SeaChoice called for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to strengthen seafood labeling regulations.
The sustainability of 65 percent of the most-common type of seafood environmental claims could not be verified based on the supplier’s product label or website, SeaChoice found after analyzing 234 claims on 181 seafood products from 18 supermarket locations.
Only 60 percent of self-declared green claims – those made only by the brand without any third-party backing – were most commonly associated with fisheries or farms whose sustainability could not be verified, SeaChoice found.
“There was a bunch of information on their website, but it was not specific enough to verify if the claims they were making on package were verifiable,” SeaChoice National Manager Liane Veitch, who co-authored the report, told SeafoodSource.
For example, High Liner Foods lists several possibilities for its wild seafood products: Marine Stewardship Council certification, in full MSC assessment, a certification recognized by Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative, in a fishery improvement project, endorsed by Ocean Wise, or Seafood Watch-rated.
“It is unclear if all of the company’s seafood must meet at least one of these criteria or if only a portion of their procurement does,” SeaChoice said. “Furthermore, it lacks specificity as it is impossible for a shopper to determine which, if any, of the criteria a particular seafood product meets.”
Other companies made vague and non-specific claims on their products including “ocean friendly,” “planet friendly,” “responsibly sourced,” and “responsible quality,” the report said.
“One label on a wild-salmon product declared it to have ‘no antibiotics, no added hormones,’ which is misleading because these substances would not normally occur in a wild fish product,” SeaChoice said.
Claims about certifications, such as Marine Stewardship Council and Aquaculture Stewardship Council, were most easily verified, followed by endorsements, according to Veitch.
As a result of the findings, Canadian food-labeling environmental and sustainability claims should be strengthened, Veitch said.
In addition, Veitch said she hopes the report “will encourage companies to be more honest and evidence-based with the claims they are making,” as SeaChoice’s consumer survey found that 68 percent of consumers check for environmental claims when making a seafood purchase.
"Consumers are more discerning and question the claims made on their products. Companies need to be aware of that as well as the reputational risk with making claims they can’t back up,” she said.
Photo courtesy of Liane Veitch/SeaChoice