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Report says retailers fail to address sustainability of their aquaculture supply chains

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A new report from the Changing Markets Foundation, Feedback and partner NGOs based in France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland found that major supermarket retailers across the UK and Europe are turning a blind eye to the nature of their farmed fish supply chains and are misleading consumers over the true impact of consuming farmed seafood.

The Floundering Around report provides a stark account of how Europe’s 33 major food retailers (representing 49 national supermarket chains across the EU and UK including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, LIDL and Asda) are failing to address key sustainability challenges in aquaculture. 

Retailers failing to address key sustainability concerns

Over three quarters of Europeans (77%) buy their fish from either a grocery store, supermarket or hypermarket. With their enormous financial heft and role as intermediaries between consumers and the fish farming industry, the report said that supermarkets are the most powerful players in the market and should drive forward transformative change in the aquaculture sector by demanding higher sustainability and fish welfare standards.

However, the report reveals that across six European countries, three quarters (76%) of supermarkets display a “near-total lack of substantive policies” to address the lack of sustainability and transparency in their farmed fish supply chains. Crucially, no retailer has a clear target for the reduction and phased-out elimination of wild-caught fish in feed. 

The report shows only very few retailers are taking positive steps towards eliminating or reducing the use of wild-caught fish in feed. French retailer Auchan has a target for transitioning 50% of the farmed seafood it sells to feed which contains less or no FMFO, while Tesco has a roadmap on how to accelerate the inclusion of alternative ingredients in feed. 

Along with the lack of attention to supply chain sustainability, the report also found that while UK retailers have taken some steps to improve supply chain transparency in recent years, they are failing in their duty to inform customers of the origin of the farmed fish and seafood they sell and none of the retailers' reports on the composition of feed used in their supply chains. Twenty-seven percent of European retailers do not include producer or farm name on fish labels, do not require public reporting by their suppliers on the composition and origin of feed used on their farms, and do not appear to have any reporting on fish welfare indicators in place.

Fish welfare

The report also highlights significant shortcomings when it comes to fish welfare. Half of retailers do not appear to require any reporting from their suppliers on fish mortalities and escapes, while very few retailers have safeguards in place to prevent high mortality rates on fish farms they source from. Only Waitrose has detailed procedures in place for suppliers to report on mortality and escape rates and said it would blacklist farms with high mortality rates if no improvement was forthcoming. While Tesco does not have an upper limit on mortalities, in critical situations it would stop sourcing.

Positive change required

The report is calling on retailers to recognize the role that they can play in lessening the impact of the global aquaculture sector, by calling for: 

  • A commitment to phasing out the use of wild-caught fish in aquafeed and other farmed animal feed by 2025.
  • The introduction of strict requirements on how farmed fish and seafood species are reared and slaughtered. 
  • The blacklisting of fish farms that have consistently high fish mortality rates. 
  • The introduction of greater transparency for consumers through improved labeling. This ties into customers’ right to know the origin of the farmed fish they buy, the origin and composition of what it was fed, and how it was reared.

Meanwhile, the report calls on consumers to recognize the role that they can play, by: 

  • Demanding more to supermarket retailers and putting pressure on them to improve the transparency of their farmed fish (and wild-caught fish) supply chains. 
  • Limiting seafood consumption, especially farmed carnivorous species (such as salmon or prawns) that depend on the use of FMFO produced from wild fish.

Read the report here.

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