Eating seafood, guilt free: UN agency to establish guidelines to certify fish

20 April 2007

As the world consumes more seafood, with an increasing proportion of it farmed in captivity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today announced that it is working to create a new international standard to certify the safety and harvesting of fish.

As the world consumes more seafood, with an increasing proportion of it farmed in captivity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today announced that it is working to create a new international standard to certify the safety and harvesting of fish.

Currently, almost half of all seafood eaten is farmed in captivity by humans instead of being raised in the wild, prompting questions about whether what is eaten is safe and whether it was produced without hurting the environment.

A certification system that is uniform across the world could verify that seafood has been harvested in a way that is healthy, socially responsible and environmentally-conscious, and to this end, FAO is mounting the effort to create a standardized framework.

“Establishing transparent, fair and reliable certification schemes is not at all straightforward,” said Lahsen Ababouch of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

Without one global standard, both consumers and producers are tasked with deciding which certification method to trust. As the number of so-called standards increase, consumers could become confused and lose confidence in the entire certification system.

“Who sets the standards? Can producers be sure they are grounded in good science? Are the out of reach of poor farmers in the developing world?” he asked. “To what extent should private-sector standards supplement governmental consumer protection policies, and how can the two be reconciled?”

Such issues, FAO said, could potentially be resolved with the creation of a uniform certification system. To this end, the agency, in collaboration with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Network for Aquaculture Centres in the Asia Pacific, has been conferring with certification organizations, producers, processors and consumer groups to establish global guidelines for the creation of a new system.

“The idea is to bring together a broad group of all the different people involved in the industry, look at what’s already being done in terms of certification, and come up with an overarching framework that can help put aquaculture certification schemes on the same page,” Rohana Subasinghe of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department said.

“That will help ensure that certification standards, wherever they are being applied, are credible, trustworthy, and fair and will give producers clear goals to shoot for.”

While the guidelines to be set up will not be standards in and of themselves, they will help to regulate the raising of seafood by Governments, NGOs or private companies, Mr. Subasinghe added.

The first discussion among the various participants was held recently in Bangkok, bringing together 72 different groups from 20 countries.

“There was wide consensus on the roadmap that is being proposed, that certification schemes should address four main areas: food safety and quality, social impacts of fish farming on local communities, environmental issues and economic feasibility,” Mr. Ababouch said.

The next meeting is scheduled to take place later this year in Brazil, after which FAO and its partners will draft guidelines to be presented to Governments at the UN Agency’s Subcommittee on Aquaculture meeting to be held in November 2008 in Chile.

 

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