Committee on Fisheries of FAO, at its 26th session held from March 7th to 11th, approved a set of voluntary guidelines for the ecolabelling of fish products.
Ecolabelling certifies that the product was obtained respecting environmental sustainability. In this way, the consumer makes informed purchasing decisions and the people who produce organic foods can use these tags to create a market mechanism that promotes sustainable production methods.
The new guidelines aim to guide governments and organizations that already use or are considering using labeling schemes for fish and fishery products obtained through the responsible management of marine fisheries.
The guidelines provide general principles that should govern ecolabelling schemes, including the need for reliable, independent auditing, transparency in setting standards and accountability and the need for standards have scientific basis.
Also set minimum requirements and criteria for assessing whether a fishery should be certified and get a label, based on the principles of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries FAO.
Since the trade of fishery products is going through an unprecedented boom, and in view of growing concerns about the level of exploitation of marine fisheries, eco-labeling to promote responsible fish trade, critical for many developing countries, and also to conserve natural resources for future generations.
Need for a more scientific basis and transparency
Over the past 15 years, various countries and private organizations have established eco-labeling programs for a wide variety of products, from coffee and bananas to beef and fish, with some success in cases than in others.
Because establishing fair and viable ecolabels is a problem. Who sets the standards? Are the producers assured that they are balanced and have a scientific basis? Are the benchmarks within the reach of poor producers in the developing world? How can consumers know that they can really rely on a particular label?
"Eco-labels have proliferated for many products, including foodstuffs and wood, but some are overlooked, confuse consumers, cause unfair competition in the market and do not promote sustainable practices. These are problems can help solve the guidelines on eco-labelling of fish products from the sea, recently approved by the Committee on Fisheries," said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director of Fisheries of FAO.
The FAO expects that these guidelines prevent such problems in the labeling of fish and fishery products, and create equal opportunities for all systems transparent eco-labeling.
Challenges in developing countries
While the FAO formulated these guidelines to all countries, industrialized or developing, they provide the barriers faced by the poorest countries in the responsible management of fisheries, for lack of financial and technical resources, and for the specific problems presented by the artisanal fisheries, common in many developing countries.
In this way, the guidelines seek financial and technical support for the poorest countries, to help them implement and benefit from eco-labeling schemes.
However, Nomura added, it should be noted that some of the best managed fisheries in the world are in developing countries. Eco-labelling offers these countries better market opportunities and the chance to get more income for their exports.
The value of exports of fish and fishery products has soared from 1 500 million dollars a year in 1980 to 57 700 million dollars a year today. For developing countries, whose market share of these exports, by value, just over 50%, this trade represents a vital source of income. Indeed, the net trade of fishery products (exports minus imports) of developing countries have reached 17 700 million dollars, a figure greater than that obtained by the joint exports of tea, rice, cocoa and coffee from these countries.
The FAO guidelines on eco-labelling were developed during 2003 and 2004 through a series of technical and expert consultations held by FAO, with the participation of specialists and government representatives.
The Committee on Fisheries also instructed FAO to continue to refine the guidelines and develop standards for organic labeling specific inland fisheries. FAO will report on this activity at the next reunion of the Committee on Fisheries, to be held in 2007.