Consumers will now benefit from standardised seafood labels, thanks to the first-ever global guidelines for aquaculture certification having been adopted at a United Nations-backed meeting, it was announced recently.
More than 50 countries attended the Phuket, Thailand, meeting of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture of the Committee on Fisheries, part of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Sub-Committee is the only global intergovernmental forum discussing aquaculture development.
The non-binding guidelines – finalised after four years of debate among governments, producers, processors and traders – are the first to subject animal health, food safety, the environment and socio-economic issues relating to aquaculture workers to compliance or certification.
They will go before the Committee on Fisheries for approval when the body meets next January in Rome.
If the guidelines are followed in full by countries, consumers at the fish counter will know whether the shrimp they are considering purchasing were raised without damaging a coastal mangrove swamp, whether the fish farm worker was paid a fair wage and whether the shrimp are contamination-free.
“These guidelines have been developed to bring some harmony to what is the fastest-growing food sector in the world,” said FAO aquaculture expert Rohana Subasinghe. “Certification of aquaculture products has proliferated over the years claiming all kinds of things,” he continued. “There was no criteria, no benchmarks or agreed principles. Aquaculture products are global-traded and it is important that we ensure responsible production and consumer satisfaction.”
Among the world’s fish farmers, 80 per cent are small-scale, often with a backyard pond for fish or a shrimp pond along the coast.
One thorny issue that had to be resolved was how a costly certification process could be engineered so that small-scale producers were not shut out of the market. The new guidelines call on governments to support fish producers develop and comply with aquaculture certification systems.
“There are ways for small producers to operate within a modern certification system,” said Mr. Subasinghe, who pointed to clusters of fish farmers in India and Thailand who share the costs of compliance.