Eco-labels on fish may have little meaning

Monday, December 19, 2011 by: Tara Green
Tags: eco-labels, fish, seafood

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(NaturalNews) The extra money you pay for seafood carrying an eco-label may not support better environmental fish farming. That's the conclusion of a study released December 7, 2011 by the University of Victoria's Seafood Ecology Research Group(SERG).

Fishy Eco Standards

"How Green is your Eco-Label" evaluates the different eco-labels for farmed marine fish and also compares them with unlabeled options. As lead researcher John Volpe observes "there's a tendency to assume that if something has an eco-label, it must be a better choice but with the exception of a few outstanding examples, one-third of the eco-labels evaluated for these fish utilize standards at the same level or below what we consider to be conventional or average practice in the industry."

Currently there is no single standard of what constitutes eco-friendly fish farming. By comparing the many competing sustainability labels applied to farmed fish, the study aims to provide consumers with a guide to identify those which reliably reflect high eco-standards. Volpe and his team selected 20 different sets of standards, or labels, for 11 types of farmed marine fish including salmon, cod and grouper. Researchers graded these standards using a tool they developed to objectively evaluate marine aquaculture, the Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI). Among the standards the Canadian researchers measured with GAPI were Whole Foods; U.K. retailer Marks and Spencer; the Global Aquaculture Alliance and Friend of the Sea.

Most of the labels were shown to have little value (save as marketing tools); earning GAPI scores less than 10 percent higher than achieved by conventional fish farming. Two labels, Global G.A.P and Marks & Spencer, received negative scores, meaning their standards were so low that fish farms causing more than the average amount of environmental damage were still eligible for certification. Researchers gave the highest marks to a set of labeling standards not yet in use: the proposed U.S. National Organic Standard for farmed salmon. "It stood out across the board," Volpe says, citing its strong requirements regarding antibiotic use, disease prevention, and fish feed.

An industry that destroys itself

The study, which was funded by the Pew Environment Group, concluded that the scale of fish farming is a problem in itself. Aquaculture farms earn eco-labels based on having a small environmental footprint. However, the growth of the fish farming industry threatens to overwhelm and counteract the sustainability practices of a single farm or small group of certified farms. "As an industry grows, its cumulative effects grow as well. Strong farm-level standards alone are not sufficient to constrain the ecological footprint of the entire industry" the researchers observe in their report.

Half of the seafood consumed around the world now comes from aquaculture. These farms pose a wide range of environmental problems. Open cage farms often discharge waste directly into the sea. Uneaten feed can fall to the sea floor can fall to the sea floor where it consumes oxygen vital to shellfish. In many fish farms, as many as 50,000-90,000 fish may be kept in a 100 foot by 100 foot pen, which can result in the spread of disease and parasites. Farmed salmon which escape from fish farms have been shown to have a harmful effect on wild salmon by spreading parasites such as sea lice. As with other types of modern livestock farming, the farmers may overuse antibiotics and other chemicals in an attempt to stem disease. These chemicals become marine pollutants and may also endanger the health of humans who consume the fish. A study comparing wild and farmed salmon found the farmed fish contained 5-10 times as many PCB's as their wild counterparts.

Ironically, the burgeoning of the aquaculture industry began because of studies showing the health benefits of consuming fish and fish oil. Fish farming was supposed to increase fish supply in order to provide more of this healthy food to more people. However, since farmed fish are fed primarily fish meal and fish oil, aquaculture actually destroys the wild fish population.


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