What is environmental labelling?
As ethical and/or environmental awareness increases, consumers are demanding
more information or guidance on the ethical or environmental performance of
the products they purchase.
The concept of eco-labelling or environmental labelling was globally endorsed
in 1992 at a meeting of the United Nations Committee on Environmental Development
(UNCED). Governments agreed to encourage expansion of environmental labelling
and other environmentally related product information programmes designed
to assist consumers in making informed choices.
Why are products labelled?
Environmental labelling or ‘eco-labelling’ provides guidance
for consumers to choose products and services that cause less damage to the
environment and is defined by FAO 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 more friendly than other functionally and competitively
Examples of ecolabels are Germany’s ‘Blue Angel’ –
the first ecolabelling scheme introduced in the 1970s; the ‘Nordic Swan’
used in Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland – the entire lifecycle
(cradle to grave) of the product has to be assessed in relation to the environment;
the EU ‘Flower’ – products must be environmentally sound
throughout their lifecycle.
Eco-labelled products include batteries, detergents, clothing, building materials,
compost, eggs, meat, vegetables, home appliances and paper products.
With increasing interest in and awareness of the nature and manner in which
our food is produced, market-based instruments such as food labels are becoming
more widespread. In particular ‘Organic’ and ‘Fair-trade’
labels or logos are becoming increasingly more popular, as demand for products
that have been produced with regard for environmental and social issues increases.
Organic farming and food
The main principle of organic farming is that it severely restricts the use
of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides and animals are reared without
the routine use of drugs and antibiotics. It should be noted however that
for meat classed as ‘organic’, animals are not necessarily free-ranging.
All organic food production is governed by strict rules. Food sold as organic
must originate from growers, processors and importers who are registered with
an approved body and subject to regular inspection. More recently, organic
standards have been developed for organically farmed fish and fishmeal.
Organically farmed fish
Organic certification is awarded by ten accrediting bodies and can be recognised
by labelling on the food packaging. Two of these bodies (Soil Association
and Organic Food Federation) have developed aquaculture standards for organically
farmed fish in the UK.
Organic standards address key issues in the farming process and requirements
for organic production include but are not limited to: reduced stocking densities;
limitations/restrictions on the use of medicines and treatments; sustainable
feed sourcing and no toxic antifoulant use.
For more information go to: http://www.soilassociation.org
The Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS) (formerly UK Register
of Organic Food Standards)(UKROFS)
Prior to the formation of ACOS in 2003, UKROFS, established in 1987, was
responsible for ensuring that EC organic standards are properly applied in
the UK by the various approved certifying authorities which register organic
farms and processors. UKROFS standards are the minimum standards which apply
in the UK and are based on an EC Regulation ((EEC) No 2092/91).
While the inclusion of welfare standards is widespread in many areas of farming,
so far it has been largely overlooked within aquaculture. However, with such
a huge growth in fish farming over the past decade (farmed fish now representing
the UKs second largest livestock in terms of numbers of animals), the welfare
of these animals is of increasing importance. Many people would be surprised
at the lack of welfare consideration given to fish, especially as evidence
points to the fact that fish feel pain in a similar way to both mammals and
birds. Freedom Food (see below) is the only welfare focused label for fish,
currently for farmed Atlantic salmon, and requires producers to be approved
to Standards developed by the RSPCA.
With the exception of ‘dolphin-friendly’ or ‘dolphin-safe’
labelling of canned tuna (see below), few marine products from wild caught
fisheries are labelled to promote environmental responsibility. This is changing,
however, as interest in accreditation of fisheries and labelling of fish products
as a measure to harness consumer support for conserving fish stocks develops.
Marine labelling schemes
Marine labelling schemes
A number of organisations have developed labels to promote the quality and/or
environmental credentials of wild-caught or farmed fish. These are summarised
in the table below.
Examples of marine labelling schemes available in the UK
or Accrediting Body
Code: organic certification UK 5
Farmed fish, dairy foods, meat
Organic Food Federation
Organic Food Federation
Farmed fish, meat etc
Food Certification Scotland
Tartan Label (Scottish Salmon
Freedom Food Ltd
Freedom Food RSPCA monitored
Meat, poultry, dairy eggs &
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Marine Stewardship Council
See EII for details
The Soil Association (SA), a registered charity, was founded in 1946 and
is one of 10 certifying bodies regulated by the Advisory Committee on Organic
Standards (formerly UKROFS). It undertakes 80% of all UK organic food certification
in the UK and is the most widely recognised organic logo in Britain.
Organic Food Federation
The Organic Food Federation (OFF) was established in 1986 and is one of
the first UK certification bodies to be officially approved. OFF certify in
all areas of organic food production and processing.
Tartan Quality Mark
The Tartan Quality Mark (TQM) is a label that assures the retailer and the
consumer the salmon is Scottish and production processes have been independently
inspected at every stage. Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) (formerly
Scottish Quality Salmon) developed and own the Tartan Quality Mark standard,
with certification and auditing being carried out by Food Certification Scotland.
Every salmon carrying the TQM can be traced back to source through a unique
number printed on the gill tag on whole salmon or labels on pre-packed fresh
salmon portions. In addition to participation in the Product Certification
Scheme all SSPO members are required to sign up to a Code of Good Practice
for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture which sets out the standards required for
farmed salmon production, compliance with the code is independently audited
on a annual basis.
The most recent labelling scheme for farmed fish is the RSPCA Welfare Standards
for Atlantic salmon launched in October 2002 by Freedom Foods. Freedom Food
is an independent farm assurance and food labelling scheme. It was set up
by the RSPCA in 1994 in response to consumer demand for higher welfare products
and clearer food labelling. The scheme aims to improve animal welfare by working
in partnership with the farming industry to raise standards. The Welfare Standards
for farming of Atlantic salmon cover all aspects affecting welfare including
health, feeding, handling and management, transport and slaughter. Visit www.freedomfood.co.uk
for an up-to-date listing of where you can find Freedom Food labelled products.
Marine Stewardship Council
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent, global, non-profit
organisation with its head office based in London. In a bid to reverse the
continued decline in the world’s fisheries, the MSC is seeking to harness
consumer purchasing power to generate change and promote environmentally responsible
stewardship of the world’s most important renewable food resource.
Though operating independently since 1999, the MSC was first established by
Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of frozen seafood, and WWF, the
international conservation organisation, in 1997. Following a two year consultation
period with various organisations around the world, the MSC developed an international
standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries encompassing the Principles
and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing based on the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct
for Responsible Fishing. Any fishery around the world is eligible to be assessed
against the MSC Standard. An independent certification company, which has
been approved by the MSC, undertakes the assessment taking into account the
views of stakeholders. If a fishery passes the assessment then it becomes
certified to the MSC Standard which means that products from that fishery
are eligible to bear the MSC eco-label.
In August 2006 there were 21 certified fisheries in the MSC programme, a further
16 undergoing full assessment and others in the pre-assessment stage. Together
they record annual catches of over 3.5 million tonnes of seafood and represent
·42% of the world’s wild salmon catch and 32 % of the world’s
prime whitefish catch for human consumption. For more information and a list
of fisheries certified by MSC see www.msc.org
‘Dolphin safe’ labelling was established in the USA – the
largest consumer of tuna in the world – in 1990 with the aim of reducing
the number of dolphin deaths in tuna fisheries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific
The main problem with by-catch of dolphins was first identified in the ETP
in the 1950s, where schools of yellowfin tuna swim in association with dolphin
and where one third of the world’s harvest of yellowfin tuna, representing
a quarter of the world’s tuna catch, is taken. Today the number of yellowfin
tuna taken in nets set deliberately on dolphins only accounts for a very small
proportion (3.3% in 1997) of tuna on the world market.
‘Dolphin-safe’ labelling was developed to assure consumers that
the tuna they purchase is caught using methods that do not involve the deliberate
hunting, capture and subsequent death of dolphins.
'Dolphin safe' labelling was established in the USA - the largest consumer
of tuna in the world - in 1990 with the aim of reducing the number of dolphin
deaths in tuna fisheries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP).
Earth Island Institute
Earth Island Institute
The Earth Island Institute (EII) was founded in 1982 in San Francisco, California
by veteran environmentalist David Brower (who died in 2000). Since its inception,
more than 50 projects have been launched, including its International Marine
Mammal Project, to stop the slaughter of dolphins and whales. In 1988, EII
was responsible for organising the most successful consumer-led boycott of
a product – tuna - resulting in tuna companies adopting ‘dolphin-safe’
standards in 1990 and the requirement that all US tuna be ‘dolphin-safe’.
In 2000 the Clinton Administration lifted the US embargo on 'dolphin-deadly'
(see below) tuna. However, since such tuna cannot use the ‘dolphin-safe’
label, to date little has appeared on the US market. If this situation changes
EII has vowed to lead another boycott of such products.
The most reputable and stringent standards for ‘dolphin-safe’
labelling are those developed by the EII. These standards were developed in
1990 by EII and the HJ Heinz Corporation (the largest supplier of canned tuna
in the world) and have been adopted by approximately 300 tuna companies, canneries,
brokers, import associations, retail stores and restaurant chains around the
EII dolphin-safe criteria prohibits intentional chasing, encircling or netting
of marine mammals and use of driftnets and gill-nets. EII dolphin-safe criteria
also prohibits any accidental killing or serious injury of dolphins, which
is rare outside of dolphin net sets, but does sometimes occur. The organisation
also works to reduce by-catch of other non-target species (sea turtles, sharks,
marine mammals and birds etc.) and juvenile tunas.
All companies, participating in the EII project, representing more than 90%
of the world’s canned tuna markets and including the US, Canada and
Europe, are required to sign an EII policy document pertinent to the section
of the industry the company represents (i.e. fishing, processing or distributing)
and must comply with the following restrictions and conditions in order for
the tuna to be certified as ‘dolphin-safe’.
The use of driftnets is prohibited.
Intentionally encircling or ‘setting’ purse-seine
nets on marine mammals (known as dolphin-fishing) at sea is prohibited.
Shipments of tuna taken by purse-seine nets in the Eastern
Tropical Pacific are required to be accompanied by documentation which certifies
that an observer was on board the fishing vessel (400 gross tons and above
only) during the entire trip and that purse-seine nets were not intentionally
deployed during the trip to encircle marine mammals.
Companies must permit EII monitors to observe fishing operations
or carry out any inspections deemed necessary by EII.
Companies are required to make a sincere effort to reduce
by-catch in their fishing operations by utilizing methods such as larger
mesh sizes and release of non target species while still alive.
Long-line vessels are required to incorporate effective devices
to safely discourage sea birds from approaching baited hooks.
Crew members are required to avoid causing death or injury
to marine mammals and other non-target species by, but not limited to, deploying
nets only after dolphins have been driven away unharmed from the fishing
area and/or carefully releasing animals, alive and not injured when possible,
which may wander into fishing nets.
Crew members are prohibited from shooting, harpooning or in
any way intentionally harming marine mammals or using their flesh for bait.
Participation in shark-finning operations is prohibited.
Companies and their subsidiaries or affiliates must not be
involved in whaling operations, dolphin drive fisheries or shark fin fisheries.
Earth Island Institute's International Monitoring Programme
EII’s International Monitoring Programme (IMP) was established in 1990
to monitor all aspects of the international tuna industry to ensure that companies
are not selling tuna caught by setting nets on dolphins, or in drift nets.
Monitors are located in every continent of the world including Europe.
IMP Europe was set up in 1992 in Milan, Italy. Tuna operations and sales are
monitored in Portugal (Azores), Spain, France, UK, Sweden, Norway, Belgium,
Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Companies participating in
IMP Europe include major retail chains, brokers and importers and comprise
90% of the European tuna industry. IMP Europe also networks with EII and IMP
monitors in Thailand, Mexico, Philippines, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela,
Indonesia, Seychelles, Mauritius, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and the EII HQ
in Hawaii and San Francisco, USA to check tuna shipments.
More than 7 million dolphins have drowned in tuna nets in the Eastern Tropical
Pacific (ETP) in the past 40 years. Since 1990 the IMP, together with the
support and collaboration of the tuna industry, has managed to reduce dolphin
mortality in the region by 98%, from approximately 80-100,000 dolphin kills
per year in the 1980’s to current levels of 2 – 3,000 animals
per year. It is important to note that these are reported kills and it is
likely that many more dolphins are dying in net sets than are being reported,
because dolphin populations are not recovering.
Standards for dolphin-safe tuna have also been developed by the Inter-American
Tropical Tuna Commission (IATCC) and the Agreement on the International Dolphin
Conservation Program (AIDCAP). AIDCAP is a binding international instrument
adopted in 1998 by countries (including Mexico, Venezuela, USA, Spain and
Ecuador) fishing for tuna in the ETP. Parties to the Agreement are required
to adhere to certain management measures to progressively reduce dolphin mortality
in their fishing operations. Enforcement of these measures, however, is left
entirely to the discretion of the individual national fisheries agencies and
violations are often ignored. Although a ‘binding’ agreement,
nations can leave at any time – Mexico is currently threatening to leave
the Agreement because they cannot falsely label their tuna as ‘dolphin-safe’
and sell it in the USA. The IATCC/AIDCAP standards are weaker than those international
standards approved by EII and do not prohibit the intentional chasing, netting
or encirclement of dolphins (known as ‘dolphin fishing’ which
is ‘dolphin-deadly’). Provided there is no observed mortality
or injury to dolphins by onboard IATCC observers, the tuna can be labelled
as ‘dolphin-safe’. This definition is misleading as many unobserved
deaths are caused by physiological stress (some dolphin schools are chased
and netted as often as three times a day), injuries incurred during netting
with subsequent death after release and death of calves who become separated
from their mothers. Furthermore, the IATCC definition allows mixing of ‘dolphin-safe’
and ‘dolphin-deadly’ tuna aboard ship!
UK Retailers and dolphin-safe
Although EII does not yet have a uniform ‘dolphin-safe’ logo
they are in the process of adopting one for introduction to the European market.
In the past companies adhering to the EII Standards produced their own ‘dolphin-safe’
label. Unfortunately, this system has become confusing (particularly in the
US) due to the introduction of the IATCC ‘dolphin-deadly’ labelling
standards. For example, several of the Mexican companies that continue to
kill dolphins label all of their tuna as ‘Amigo de Delfin’ (dolphin-friendly).
Although little of the ‘dolphin-deadly’ tuna is likely to enter
the European market it is on sale in Spain and EII is working to address this
situation. To ensure that tuna is in fact ‘dolphin-friendly’,
UK consumers should only buy brands produced by an EII listed and approved
Although some countries such as Mexico, Venezuela and some boats from Panama
and Colombia continue to deliberately net dolphins in their tuna operations,
the Maldives is an example of a tuna fishing nation which uses traditional
pole and line methods to capture tuna. In waters around the Maldives all marine
mammals and turtles are protected and net-fishing is banned within 200 miles
of their coastline.
Traditional methods of capturing tuna (pole and line) are not associated with
high by-catch levels of marine mammals, turtles and birds. They are also more
labour intensive providing employment and income for artisanal fishermen.
For more information see www.dolphinsafetuna.com
Labelling for origin and species
Labelling and product information for fish and its products varies according
to the nature of the product – fresh, frozen or tinned – and the
retailer or processor. Fresh fish tends to be accompanied by the least information
whilst for tinned or processed fish the country of origin is usually stated.
Information on the method of capture is generally absent.
From January 2002 labelling for origin and species became mandatory in the
EC for fish (whole and fillets only – legislation does not apply to
further processed products e.g. fish fingers etc.) which will have to be labelled
with the following information:
- The commercial name of the species (addition of the scientific name is
- Production methods i.e. caught at sea or in fresh water, farmed or cultivated.
- Area where the fish was caught.
No information relating to the method of capture is as yet required. Marine
Conservation Society is working to encourage producers or manufacturers and
retailers to provide more comprehensive labelling, including details on area
and method of capture, in order that consumers can make more informed choices
about the fish they buy.
It should be noted that information on origin on the packaging of processed
fish e.g. fillets in breadcrumbs, relates to the origin of the product and
not to the origin of the raw material i.e. the fish (unless otherwise stated).
For more information see www.foodstandards.gov.uk