A new report on seafood labelling contains good news and bad news about the sustainability of seafood Canadians buy at their local grocery store.
Environmentalists at SeaChoice say most seafood making "self-declared" eco-friendly claims were impossible to prove or downright misleading, while those with some form of third-party oversight were credible.
Shannon Arnold of the Ecology Action Centre said "consumers want to do the right thing" and "make sure it's an environmentally friendly product."
"But can I tell that from the label, do I have enough information?" said Arnold.
"We found a lot of labels that have something called self-declared claims and these are, we found, very vague, non-specific."
The Halifax-based conservation group is one of three partners in SeaChoice.org. The others are the David Suzuki Foundation and Living Oceans Society.
"Upwards of 60 per cent of those have no information to tell you whether that is a true claim or not," Arnold said. "And that's very concerning. No evidence behind it. You can't find any information as to whether that's a true claim or not. That is green-washing."
SeaChoice staff attempted to verify 234 environmental claims across 181 seafood products from major retailers in Toronto, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Montreal and Halifax.
The sampling was almost entirely from frozen or canned products sold at Superstore, Sobeys, Walmart, Costco and other retailers.
The most common seafood type sampled was tuna, followed by salmon, shrimp and whitefish, such as haddock, cod and pollock.
Checking the claims
Claims were broken down into three categories.
- Certified: Those meeting standards set by independent eco-certification authorities like the Marine Stewardship Council and verified by third party auditors.
- Endorsements: Claims endorsed or ranked by independent conservation groups Oceanwise and Seafood Watch.
- Self-declared: Where claims subject to no oversight and accounted for 102 of the 234 in the study.
The good news is that all 55 products bearing an eco-certification were able to prove they were sustainably harvested due to a chain of custody available to consumers online.
Many major seafood species harvested in Atlantic Canada, like lobster, carry the Marine Stewardship Council label.
The majority of endorsements — 66 of 77 — had information available to back up the claim. However, SeaChoice said it had difficulty verifying the sustainability of canned tuna products with third-party endorsements.
A little over a third of self-declared claims — 36 of 102 — were verified, 41 lacked evidence and nine made claims "for which the information and evidence provided indicated that they were made from unsustainable sources."
"These claims are therefore misleading consumers," the report states.
What they want done
SeaChoice is calling on the federal government to require far more detailed information and third-party verification to justify the use of "sustainable" or "responsible" in seafood labelling.
The group wants labelling laws like those in the European Union with the scientific name, where it was caught or farmed, the production method and gear type or farming method.
Canadian retailers have pledged to sell sustainably caught seafood.
SeaChoice said limited progress in the past year, but both Sobeys and Walmart Canada now say how much of their fresh and frozen seafood sold in the past year met their commitment.
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