Marks & Spencer's Linda Wood: Seafood industry must take animal welfare more seriously

Marks and Spencer location in Glasgow, Scotland
Marks and Spencer location in Glasgow, Scotland | Photo courtesy of Loch Earn/Shutterstock
6 Min

British consumers are more worried about sustainability in seafood than in any other food category, and with many wanting more information related to their seafood purchases, the industry has a responsibility to do more to educate consumers, according to Marks & Spencer (M&S) Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager Linda Wood.

Speaking at the 2024 Norway-U.K. Seafood Summit, held at Fishmongers’ Hall in London, England, on 27 February 2024, Wood said seafood is an important food category for M&S, contributing GBP 280 million (USD 354.7 million, EUR 327.3 million) to its bottom line annually.

The company sources approximately 50,000 metric tons (MT) of raw materials, comprising 43 species from 30 countries. Norwegian seafood – mainly cod, haddock, and halibut – accounts for around 7 percent of M&S fish sales.

Through its “Forever Fish” sourcing policy, M&S has adopted clear criteria, or “red lines,” for the seafood it buys and sells, including not sourcing Russian-caught fish, not reprocessing any of its seafood in Chinese factories, and only sourcing line-caught tuna species, according to Wood.

“It’s a basic requirement to be able to ask and to know where a fish comes from. Failure to put that on the label is a massive risk because it’s not like [retailers] don’t know where it comes from; we go to great lengths to know where our fish comes from,” she said. “If we can’t put on a pack where a fish has come from, then we need to be asking ourselves some big questions.”

The retailer's criteria aligns with issues consumers have increasingly prioritized, including as gut and brain health, Alzheimer’s, and the amount of processing a food product goes through before making it to their plates, Wood said.

Seafood an ideal product for these consumer trends, she said, bu it is not without its problems, as consumers remain concerned about issues such as depleting fish stocks and microplastics in the world’s oceans. By and large, U.K. consumers have the perception that polluted seas automatically results in unhealthy fish, which, in turn, raises food safety concerns.

Furthermore, consumers don’t know who to trust when trying to learn more about seafood, and are confused by eco-labels such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Wood said.

M&S doesn’t put these logos on its packaging. Instead, it backs and promotes its own brand and likes to tell its customers where each product comes from, with this approach aided by M&S’s partnership with WWF, which has been in place since 2004.

“For a long time, our policy has been to work with the best, avoid the worst, and invest in the rest,” she said.

In terms of the latter policy, M&S is currently funding nine fishery improvement projects (FIPs) worldwide.

The retailer also heavily prioritizes animal welfare, particularly in regard to farmed salmon. Wood recently led a three-day summit in Norway, co-hosted by Optimar, studying animal welfare issues in the seafood industry, and has pushed for animal higher standards to be implemented in the catching, farming, and slaughter of seafood. Wood said she is pushing for her employer to select its seafood sources based on ... 

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