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Ecolabelling as a Tool for Sustainable Aquaculture.

T.N. Venugopalan Vighneshwara Enterprise Introduction. Aquaculture is world’s fastest growing food production system. During the past two decades aquaculture production has increased by 10% per annum. This sector is rapidly gaining importance as a result of dwindling catches of fish from natural water bodies and increasing global demand for seafood. However, the tremendous growth in aquaculture sector is accompanied by a number of environmental and social problems that could undermine the future development of this sector unless suitable remedial measures are taken. In order to address the negative impact of aquaculture development on environment a number of management measures have been taken. Ecolabelling is one such management measure which is a market based economic instrument that seeks to direct consumers’ purchasing behaviour so that they consider product attributes other than price. Such attributes can relate to environmental, social and economic objectives. Market-based approaches have become a prominent strategy of environmental movement organisations. Using such market-based approaches, sustainable seafood organisations contribute sustainable aquaculture and fisheries. However, there is a view that such market based approaches leads to capitalist accumulation which is counter-productive to environmental sustainability. There has been growing realisation among national governments and multinational institutions that economic development and environmental issues are inseparable; many forms of development erode the environmental resource upon which they must be based and environmental degradation can undermine economic development. Sustainable development. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are grounded in a sound evidence-based approach that takes into account three dimensions sustainability such as economic, social and environmental. The term ‘sustainable development’ has different connotation and is defined variously by different organisations. However, there is no single agreed definition. In 1980 FAO defined sustainable development as “the management and conservation of the natural resource base and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development (in agriculture, forestry, fisheries sectors) conserves land, water, plant and animal resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable”. The most well-known definition of sustainability was coined by the 1987 Brundtland Commission of the UN; which was constituted to study the impact of development on the society, the economy and the environment. The commission defined sustainable development as “development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987) In recent years the concept of sustainable development has been widely discussed in many national and international fora and as a result a vast literature on the topic emerged. Sustainable Aquaculture. All fisheries and aquaculture activities generate some kind of impact on the environment. The concept of sustainable aquaculture is based on the extraction of resources in such a manner as to minimise the environmental impacts to an acceptable level. It may be defined as aquaculture systems which are environmentally sound, economically profitable and productive and maintain the social fabric of the rural community. The sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture production is vital for the livelihood, food security and nutritional requirements of billions of people. Importance of aquaculture Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food production systems, and presently this sector contributes around 13% of world animal protein supply. With the world’s capture fisheries in deep crisis and their restoration in many cases appears to be difficult or impossible, aquaculture has emerged as a viable alternative for many countries for increasing and sustaining their fish supply. The world aquaculture production increased drastically from 49.9 million tonnes in 2007 to 66.6 million tonnes in 2012 and 73.8 million tonnes in 2014.(State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, SOFIA 2016). During the same period the global capture fishery production was 90.8 million tonnes ; 91.3 million tonnes and 93.4 million tonnes respectively (SOFIA,2016). However, the rapid growth of the aquaculture has caused a wide range of concerns about the harmful environmental and social impact of culture system. These include: Biodiversity, critical habitats like mangroves and ecosystems Genetic diversity including GMOs Endangered species, exotic species, alien and migratory species. Natural fish stocks and species and the associated ecosystems Water, soil and air quality. Other environmental and social concerns of aquaculture arise from the unscientific use of banned antibiotics and veterinary drugs for prophylactic and therapeutic purposes, use of fishmeal as feed and restricting traditional access to local inhabitants. Many investigators questioned the merits of farming high priced carnivorous species such as shrimp, salmon, tilapia and Pangasius fed on fish meal and oil. These species consume huge amount of fish meal and oil derived from the output of wild fisheries, thereby putting more pressure on the already overexploited wild fish socks. This is a major issue of concern as fishmeal and oil are mostly derived from small pelagic species that are highly fecund, fast growing, short lived and occupy low trophic level in the food chains. It is expected that fish meal and oil consumption in aquaculture feeds will actually decline in the long term because of high prices; there will be better substitutes with plant derived protein and lipid sources and consumer resistance to eating farmed fish fed on other fish. Environmental labelling. The 1992 Earth Summit endorsed environmental labelling as a legitimate environmental management tool. Since then it had been seriously debated in a number of international fora, including the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Codex Alimentarius Commission and ISO besides a number of regional and national bodies. Aquaculture certification schemes. In the past two decades, the concept of ecolabelling and certification schemes for aquaculture has gained significant importance in the global trade and marketing of fish and fish products. The demand for ecolabelling and certification for both aquaculture and capture fishery are driven by large-scale retailers and food business operators (FBOs) with focus on food safety, environmental sustainability and social criteria. The label enables the retailers and brand owners to meet the growing consumer demand for products which originate from sustainably managed fisheries and aquaculture systems. Retailers use ecolabels as a tool to express their Corporate Social Resposibility (CSR) and thereby promote the sale of such labelled products. In 1996 FAO Committee on Fisheries (CoFi) discussed the possible role of ecolabelling as a tool for sustainable fisheries management. However, several members were apprehensive about the possible use of ecolabelling schemes as non-tariff barriers to trade. In 1991 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defined environmental labelling as “the voluntary granting of labels by a private or public body in order to inform consumers and thereby promote consumer products which are determined to be environmentally friendlier than other functionally and competitively similar products”. Ecolabelling schemes entitle a fishery product to bear a distinctive logo or statement which certifies that the fish has been harvested in compliance with conservation and sustainability standards. The logo or statement is intended to make provision for informed decisions of purchasers whose choice can be relied upon to promote and stimulate the sustainable use of fishery resources. Ecolabels are defined as marks on products that are “deemed to have fewer impacts on the environment than functionally or competitively similar products”. Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) defines an ecolabel as “a label which identifies overall environmental performance of a product (i.e. goods or service) within a product category based on life cycle considerations.” An ecolabel is a mark, logo, a label or a product endorsement affixed to a seafood product at the point of sale that implies to a purchaser that the product has been produced through ecologically sustainable procedures, and is from a source that is well managed. . Ecolabels are normally applied as labels or tags, such as a recognisable logo to a seafood product as a product endorsement at the point of retail sale. Where individual products are small or where they are marketed in a combined or processed pack (such as a canned product), the label may be applied to the pack rather than the individual product itself. The consumer facing label is an assurance to the consumer that the product they purchase is produced in a manner which has less impact on the environment in comparison to an unlabelled product. Thus the message that the ecolabelled product is more environmentally sustainable is conveyed to the consumer. International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) states that the overall goal of these labels and declarations is “through communication of verifiable and accurate information that is not misleading, on environmental aspects of products and services, to encourage the demand for and supply of those products and services that cause less stress on environment, thereby stimulating the potential for market-driven continuous environmental improvement”. There is difference between “Environmental labels” and Ecolabels”. The term environmental labelling is rather broad and imprecise, whereas the term ecolabel refers to special group of environmental labels. There are many labels and declarations on environmental performance which are categorised as “environmental labels” while ecolabels are a sub-group and they are based on special criteria which are comprehensive, self-determining and traceable. In 2005 , FAO developed Guidelines for Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries (Marine Guidelines) and in 2011, developed Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification (Aquaculture Guidelines). These guidelines provide guidance for the development, organisation and implementation of credible aquaculture certification schemes. The criteria address (1) animal health and welfare; (2) food safety; (3) environmental integrity and (4) socio-economic aspects. The aquaculture guidelines are applicable to voluntary certification schemes and are to be applied and interpreted in tune with their objectives also considering existing national laws and regulations and international agreements. The aquaculture guidelines are rooted in the fact that sustainable development of aquaculture is closely linked to social, economic and environmental aspects of aquaculture including issues like aquatic animal disease control, food safety and biodiversity conservation. Objectives of Ecolabelling and Certification Schemes. The important objectives of labelling and certification schemes are to: Communicate verifiable and accurate information. Encourage demand and supply of eco-friendly products and services. Reduce ecosystem degradation. Stimulate market-driven continuous environmental improvement. Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification. FAO in collaboration with the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) developed guidelines for the development and implementation of credible aquaculture certification scheme. The guidelines covers 4 broad range of issues which are considered relevant for certification. Aquaculture certification schemes may cover one or all of these issues. 1. Animal health and welfare. Aquaculture activities should be conducted in a manner that assures the health and welfare of farmed aquatic animals, by optimising health, minimising stress, reducing phases of the production cycle. 2. Food safety and quality. Aquaculture activities should be conducted in a manner that ensures food safety and quality by implementing appropriate standards and regulations as defined by FAO/WHO, Codex Alimentarius and in related codes of practice and guidelines developed within the context of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and any other relevant organisation. 3. Environmental integrity. Aquaculture should be planned and practised in an environmentally responsible manner in accordance with appropriate national and international rules and regulations 4. Social responsibility Aquaculture should be conducted in a socially responsible manner, within national rules and regulations, to benefit aquaculture workers, local communities, investors and the country. Aquaculture should contribute effectively to rural development, poverty alleviation and food security and deliver benefits to the local community and surrounding resource users. Types of Ecolabels. Ecolabels are classified into three main groups. They are: First party labelling schemes: these are established by individual companies based on their product standards. Also called self-declarations, they address specific environmental issues which are known to the consumers. Involve development of standard and criteria within a company, with compliance assessment procedures carried out internally (such as company-appointed assesses). Such internal standards concentrate on specific sustainability issues that could be complied by the organisation. Since such self-declarations are not subjected to either peer review or public critique, they are not recognised as a sound system of certification for achieving ecological sustainability. They serve the main purpose of reducing the gap between the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ performing products/ventures in terms of sustainability. Second party labelling schemes: These are labelling schemes established by industry associations for the product of their members. Adopt an industry-wide standard and criteria with assessment procedures that may be either internal or independent. The owner of the standard (typically an industrial association, a group of companies or sometimes a government) will determine the standard and criteria that rely on independent assessment. These assessments are seldom made public, though the standard and criteria may be publicly available. As in first party labelling, here also the standard and criteria may be set in such a manner that majority of the group members will comply with them. Third party labelling schemes: they are normally established by a private initiator independent from the producers, distributors and sellers for labelled products (‘standard makers’). A third party ecolabel implies that a particular product was produced in an ‘environmentally friendly” fashion. Standards and criteria are established after extensive stakeholder consultation. Assessment is carried out by independent third party certifiers. Certification also involves Chain-of-Custody (CoC) assessment process to ensure that there is no mixing of certified product with non-certified product along the supply chain or in the market. Broad range of ecolabelling schemes in Aquaulture. A number of stakeholders are involved in aquaculture certification and labelling and a broad range of issues are covered. Most issues are of common interest for stakeholders whereas others are of more specific interest to fewer or single stakeholders. Based on stakeholder interest and participation, aquaculture labelling can be classified as follows: Scheme promoted by retailers. Responding to the requirements of consumers and NGOs and also as an expression of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy, the procurement policies of many retailers are influenced by various NGOs through media campaign or boycotts announcing the most ethical supermarkets. A number of retailers have begun developing standards aimed at sustainable production. In most cases retailers have joined together in formulating the labelling and certification standards as this will reduce cost of auditing and certification. Many retailers and brand owners are in the bandwagon of sustainable seafood movement and are actually driving the demand for ethical products. Currently only a limited number of retailer-promoted labelling schemes are available for aquaculture products. Examples are GLOBALGAP, Safe Quality Food and Carrefour. Schemes promoted by Aquaculture industry. The aquaculture industry has an interest in promoting sustainable aquaculture products in general; better performing practices can serve as a good example for the industry. It is the most organised group of producers who can agree on and establish industry-led labelling schemes. Examples are Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and Aquaculture Certification Council (ACC); Shrimp Seal of Quality (SSOQ); Siges-Salmon Chile; Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation. Schemes promoted by Governments. Governments in exporting countries have a clear interest in promoting a sustainable aquaculture industry and promoting it among buyers in both national and international markets. In order to mitigate the adverse impact of aquaculture on environment, many governments have adopted ecolabelling as a means of ensuring sustainable aquaculture. Examples are Thai Quality Shrimp, Vietnam GAP; Hong Kong Accredited Fish Farm Scheme. Schemes promoted by NGOs. Non-Governmental Organisations with interest in conservation, environment, fair-trade etc play a key role in developing labelling schemes for aquaculture industry. Many environmental NGOs like WWF have developed ecolabelling schemes for aquaculture. It is often mentioned that NGO-established schemes are “truly” third party schemes as there is often less conflict of interest. Examples are Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC); Aquaculture Certification Council (ASC); Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) and International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). Ecolabelling was first recognised internationally at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) at Rio de Janeiro. Ecolabelling in the context of fisheries and aquaculture is designed to incentivise environmentally sustainable fish production methods and to influence the procurement policies of large retailers and brand owners as well as purchasing decisions of consumers. In the fisheries and aquaculture sector the ecolabelling schemes are promoted by governments, retailers, the industry and environmental NGOs. Currently more than 30 labelling schemes are available for aquaculture. The proliferation of labelling schemes created confusion among retailers, processors, farmers and distributors resulting in “ecolabel clutter”. Selected ecolabelling schemes in aquaculture. A number of certification schemes are available for aquaculture products. The most important aquaculture certification schemes are discussed below: Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA): It is a non-governmental body established to certify social, environmental and food safety standards at aquaculture facilities throughout the world. GAA has been formed by the aquaculture industry; particularly by the shrimp farmers to promote sustainable aquaculture throughout the world.GAA developed first voluntary Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standards in a certification system and aligned with Aquaculture Certification Council (ACC). Certified producers are entitled to use “BAP” certification logo for products from certified fish farms. BAP standards cover a wide range of issues such as food safety, traceability, animal welfare, community and social welfare and environmental sustainability. BAP certification can be obtained for both farms and processing. The BAP certification mark is a trade mark of the GAA that is licensed to ACC for the use by facilities certified by ACC. The BAP logo can be used on retail packaging only if it contains aquaculture product farmed and/or processed in accordance with Best Aquaculture Practices Standards. Compliance with BAP standard is assured through site inspection and auditing procedures implemented by ACC. The BAP mark reflects process certification only. In other words, the ACC is mainly a business-to-business tool but the ACC label is visible and promoted on finished product packaging. The GAA standards for shrimp farming include the following: Community: Property right and regulatory compliance, community relations and worker safety and employee relations. Environment: Mangrove conservation and biodiversity protection, effluent management, sediment management, soil/water conservation, post-larvae sources and storage and disposal of farm supplies. Food safety: drug and chemical management, microbial safety, harvest and transport. 2. GLOBAL GAP: was established in 1997 by Euro-Retailer Producers Working Group (EUREP). In 2007, it became GLOBAL GAP with international focus. Efforts were led by British retailers and supermarkets in continental Europe and were aimed at addressing consumer concerns toward food safety, environmental sustainability and labour welfare, in addition to reducing costs for producers by providing a single set of standards accepted by a wide range of retailers. EUREP developed harmonised standards and procedures following Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). GLOBAL GAP is implemented by Food PLUS, a non-profit limited company based in Germany, which is responsible for facilitating GLOBAL GAP activities, serving as the legal owner of the normative documents and hosting the GLOBAL GAP secretariat. GLOBAL GAP certification can be issued to individual farms or to group of farmers who must fulfil a set of requirements including conducting regular internal inspections. GLOBAL GAP is also developing guidance documents for small holders to assist the process of group certification. GLOBAL GAP standards allow other schemes to be bench marked against it, through which standards from other certification schemes can be recognised as equivalent to the GLOBAL GAP standards. Several countries have benchmarked their standards with GLOBAL GAP giving origin to China GAP, Mexico GAP and others. GLOBAL GAP standards are process (and not product) standards and address food chain operators only, and hence GLOBAL GAP labels are not visible on the packaging of the product itself, although GLOBAL GAP products are sometimes sold in separate recognisable areas within supermarkets. In 2003, for aquaculture certification, GLOBAL GAP constituted Integrated Aquaculture Assurance (IAA). IAA members include major retailers like Royal Ahold, TESCO, Metro Group, Mc Donald’s Europe, Wal-Mart (UK) and others. GLOBAL GAP is a private sector body that sets voluntary standards for certification of production processes of aquaculture and agricultural products. It is a business-to-business (B2B) scheme; there is no label visible to the consumer, covering the entire production chain ranging from the brood stock, seedlings and feed suppliers, to the farming, harvesting and processing stages. GLOBAL GAP standards cover aspects like site management, reproduction, chemical usage, occupational health and safety of workers, fish welfare, management and husbandry, harvesting, feed management, environmental and biodiversity management, water usage and disposal and post-harvest-mass balance and traceability. 3. Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC): ASC was co-founded by WWF and Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) in 2009. This initiative is the result of a series of round tables called “Aquaculture Dialogues”, between WWF and various stakeholders (farmers, NGOs, retailers, experts) which led to the definition of standards for responsible aquaculture and the creation of a new organisation, ASC. The ASC standards address the following seven principles: #1 Legal compliance ( obeying the law, the legal right to operate. #2 Preservation of natural environment and biodiversity. #3 Preservation of water resources. #4 Preservation of diversity of species and wild populations ( eg. preventing escapes which could pose a threat to wild fish). #5 Responsible use of a animal feed and other resources. #6 Ensuring good animal health (eg. no unnecessary use of antibiotics and chemicals). #7 Ensuring social responsibility (eg. no child labour, health and safety of workers, freedom of assembly, community relations). ASC will be working with independent, third party entities to certify farms which are in compliance with its standards. Dutch Retailer Association announced that they will sell only ASC certified farmed seafood. So far ASC has finalised standards for 11 species of fishes such as salmon, shrimps, tilapia, pungasius, albacore, clams, trout, oysters, scallop, seriola and cobia as these species have highest impact on the environment and highest market value. Currently ASC has certified more than 200 farms spread across 37 countries and there are over 1120 products carrying ASC label. According to WWF ASC certification is more credible than other such similar schemes as it is based on six principles which are: Science based Performance based Metrics based Created by a diverse and balanced group of stakeholders Focused on minimising or eliminating the key environmental and social impact of aquaculture, not a laundry list of impacts. 4.Friend of the Sea (FoS): FoS is a Italy-based fisheries and aquaculture certification scheme promoted by the Earth Island Institute, an international, independent, non-profit environmental organisation.FoS standards are available for both wild fisheries and aquaculture. FoS Sustainable Aquaculture criteria require: * no impact on critical habitats ( eg. mangroves, wastelands etc.) * compliance with waste water parameters. * reduction of escapes and by catches to a negligible level. no use of banned anti-foulants nor growth hormone. Compliance with social accountability * gradual reduction of carbon footprint. 5. Naturland (Germany): it is a German based organisation in the field of organic agriculture and is one of the pioneering standard organisations in the field of organic aquaculture development. Naturland developed the first species-specific standards in 1995, starting with carp, followed by salmonids, bivalve molluscs and shrimps. Naturland certified products are marketed internationally and are well accepted by major market players. To date Naturland has certified more than 30 farms and aquaculture projects(WWF, 2007). 6. Thai Quality Shrimp (TQS): Thai Quality Shrimp programme (TQS) has been developed by the Thai Department of Fisheries (DoF) with the support of various international organisations like World Bank. The DoF has been introducing several programmes and activities to ensure food safety and sustainability of Thai shrimp. The Good Aquaculture Practices (GAP) programme and the Code of Conduct for responsible shrimp farming (CoC) provide the support for the TQS programme. The GAP programme mainly focuses on food safety and implements good practices at the hatchery and farm level to ensure that products are fresh and do not contain residues of chemicals and antibiotics nor microbial contaminants. The Code of Conduct for responsible aquaculture (CoC) encompasses guidelines for the entire production chain including feed mills, hatcheries, farms and processors. The Thai CoC programme is based on the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) and International Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming (WWF, 2007). The CoC guideline is divided into two sections for hatcheries and farms, each containing 111 criteria that need to be met by hatcheries and farms applying for certification. The criteria include site selection, farm management, stocking densities, feed, health, medication, effluents, proper harvesting and transportation, farmers’ organisation, data collection as well as social responsibilities. Both the GAP and the CoC-programme are operatively managed, inspected and certified by the Thai Department of Fisheries (DoF). TQS has so far certified 97 farms and 28 hatcheries. 7. Bio Suisse (Switzerland): Bio Suisse is the Association of Swiss Organic Farmers’ Guidelines for organic aquaculture was developed in 2000 and the first product (trout) has been certified in 2001. Bio Suisse certified products are mainly marketed in Switzerland where the label is well received by consumers and retailers. Bio Suisse requires that aquaculture operation should not disturb ecological balance, natural population should not be threatened and the basic principles of sustainability are to be adhered to. Only native fish species adapted to regional conditions are to be raised. Use of genetically modified or triploid fish is prohibited. Parent and young stock must not be fed with antibiotics, growth promoters or hormones. For salmonids and other carnivorous species, the addition of fish meal and oil is permitted provided the same is derived from residues from fish processing or from provably sustainable fishing. The entire fish farm must be engaged in organic fish production. Parallel production of organic and non-organic fish is not permitted. 8. Debio (Norway): is a membership-based Norwegian organic organisation. Debio performs auditing and certification assignments of organic production. Debio as certified 3 aquaculture operations, salmon, trout and cod. The main markets for these products are Norway, Sweden, UK and Germany. Conclusion. Ecolabelling and certification are non-state market-driven initiatives which can be employed as powerful tools for the development of sustainable aquaculture systems across the globe. A number of large corporations like Walmart, Tesco, Findus Group and Whole Foods have committed to source aquaculture products only from certified sources. However, the proliferation of labelling and certification schemes applicable to aquaculture has created “label clutter” and resultant “label fatigue”. There are labelling schemes promoted by retailers, those promoted by the aquaculture industry, those promoted by Governments and those promoted by NGOs. In the coming years the importance of ecolabelling will gain further momentum as a market-driven initiative to promote sustainable aquaculture and give fillip to our Blue Growth Initiative.