Greenpeace ranks the best – and worst – canned tuna choices for American consumers

Published on
April 19, 2017

Greenpeace USA has released its second-ever canned tuna ranking, finding that a number of U.S. retailers have made “significant progress toward offering consumers more sustainable and ethical products,” according to the NGO’s guide. 

Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, Wegmans, Giant Eagle, Albertsons, ALDI, Ahold Delhaize, and Kroger are among the retail outlets that have made the most gains in the realm of sustainable canned tuna, said Greenpeace, while the NGO found companies such as Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and StarKist to be holding “the industry back from the sweeping changes that are desperately needed.”

“Retailers are quickly realizing that consumers want canned tuna products that they can feel good about feeding their families,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaigner David Pinsky. “It’s unfortunate that tuna giants like Chicken of the Sea continue to talk a good game on sustainability and human rights, yet have not made the changes needed to shift a destructive industry. Chicken of the Sea can be the leader that says the status quo will no longer be tolerated, but it needs to act now.”  

Whole Foods Market, Wild Planet, American Tuna and Ocean Naturals were all listed by the NGO in its “green” category, reserved for retailers offering the best canned tuna options for American consumers per Greenpeace standards. Whole Foods broke into the category as a result of its recent commitment to offer only sustainable canned tuna by 2018. Meanwhile, Wild Planet and American Tuna tied for the top slot in Greenpeace’s list for their continued advocacy for positive change throughout the industry, the NGO said. 

Seven retailers fell within the “yellow” category, a step below Greenpeace-deemed top performers, indicating that “a growing number of evaluated brands provide some good tuna choices,” said the NGO, especially compared with 2015, when the first ranking was released. 

Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, StarKist, Walmart, Target, Costco, Supervalu, Trader Joe’s, and H-E-B all failed in the rankings, according to Greenpeace. The big three tuna companies – Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and StarKist – were given failing scores after showing “little improvement to their policies and practices,” Greenpeace explained. Although Thai Union-owned Chicken of the Sea ranked the highest among the three brands for its policy positions on sustainability and human rights, the company has a long way to go to ensure that suppliers are meeting proper requirements, according to Greenpeace. 

“It’s no secret that the big three tuna brands in the U.S. are holding the rest of the industry back from the transformative change we need,” noted Pinsky. “A retailer like Walmart has so clearly been infiltrated by the big three brands’ industry front group, it now regurgitates industry talking points in its policy and communications. As Kroger launches more responsibility-caught canned tuna products, it could soon leave Walmart and Costco in the dust — both retailers are failing to lead. Retailers should continue to break free of the destructive tuna industry’s low bar sustainability and social responsibility standards, and offer consumers better products.”

Of the failing retailers, Supervalu is showing the most promise, said the NGO, as it has made clear plans to improve its tuna policies and procurement; Walmart, however, which recently released a canned tuna policy “that maintains the status quo and continues to rely on unsustainable suppliers like Thai Union,” is falling behind, said Greenpeace. 

To compose the guide, Greenpeace evaluated the sourcing policies and practices of 20 brands, appraising whether the fishing method used to catch tuna harms other marine life, whether retailers avoid shark finning and whether they can trace their products back to the sea. Moreover, Greenpeace looked into retailers’ equitability and social responsibility of tuna brands, ultimately concluding that “poor working conditions are systemic in the tuna industry, and in the worst cases, human rights violations and forced labor occur.”

View the complete guide and rationale behind it here: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/tuna-guide/

The guide can be downloaded in Spanish here: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/guia-atun-enlatado/

The United States continues to be the largest market for the oft-longline-caught albacore tuna species. The longline method is “less regulated and can be highly destructive when measures are not employed to properly mitigate bycatch,” said Greenpeace.  Skipjack tuna, which is typically acquired using the large purse-seine net method, is also popular in the U.S. canned seafood market, but has its setbacks too, according to the NGO – mainly the use of FAD devices.

Consumer demand is promoting positive change regarding both species catch-methods, Greenpeace said.

"As consumers demand responsibly-caught tuna, the U.S. market is starting to shift toward best practice catch methods like pole and line, troll and FAD-free,” it said.

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