Simon Bush: Sustainable seafood – Do consumers matter? | WURcast

Simon Bush: Sustainable seafood – Do consumers matter? | WURcast


Thanks everyone for coming along this evening What I want to talk to you about tonight is seafood. This university is of course big in agriculture… …but what we also do a lot of work on is fisheries and aquaculture. The production of fish and other aquatic animals which also fit into global food security, in fact make a very important contribution to food security. What I want to focus on tonight, is the seafood movement. Essentially this movement that emerged around a pressing need to address the sustainability… …of seafood production. But I want to look at it not from a production end, I want to draw our attention to the role of consumers and in doing that, hopefully I’m also going to draw you guys into the discussion. Because guess what? Most of you in the room, if not all, are seafood consumers in some way, And at any given moment of shopping can engage in an act of conservation through the market, at least that is what the seafood movement tells us. So I want to question however the role that consumers actually play. Given you may already engage in this movement, it is a question that we can ask ourselves: What am I doing in buying sustainable seafood, and is it making a difference? And it is an important question, because this little guy, my son Don Bush, is also faced with dilemmas like this. What can I do dad? How do I know it is sustainable? The people selling me this seafood tell me it is, but how do I actually know? Can I contribute towards sustainability? And where on earth do I start? And that ‘where do I start?’ also comes back in in this movement It has been a proliferation of different attempts to steer consumers. Some of which works, some of which we can have some question marks over. So that is the question. I want to address Dan’s three questions. Now I want to take a step back first, before we get to consumers and just reflect a little bit… …on the importance of seafood, for those that perhaps are not as well acquainted with this sector. This is a graph that the the Food and Agricultural Organisation puts out, and you can see all the lines going up but at very different rates. This blue section is capture fisheries… …and essentially what we have seen over the last decade two decades, is that line flattening out. So the contribution of capture fisheries to our total consumption… …food fish, the fish that is available for human consumption… …is not increasing. So where are we seeing the increases? In that gray area… …which is aquaculture. So that is the big picture. And in fact in 2014… We see aquaculture overtaking capture fisheries.So we see a very balanced source between these… …two sources of where seafood is coming from. It is important for a very large number of people around the world. 3.1 billion people get 20% of their animal protein from seafood. Developing countries are also very important players in terms of international trade. They are contributing 54% of the seafood which is traded across borders internationally. What we also see, is that where this sustainable seafood movement has emerged… …predominantly the US and Europe… We see these as being perhaps some of the most fish insecure regions in the world. The US imports 90% of the seafood they consume. Here in Europe, we import 65% of the seafood we consume. This is where we are concerned about globally: the seafood movement emerging in these markets… But also the markets which are perhaps least secure. What are the concerns globally around seafood? Well, if you read the newspapers you will have picked up on a number of stories over the last years. Although aquaculture has grown to represent half of our seafood production… …we see a lot of concern over the industrialisation of aquaculture. I am not make any judgements on that, I am just telling you what is in the media. What consumers are getting… …through newspapers, like the Guardian, or New York Times. We have heard in the last couple of years about seafood slavery. Labour issues becoming an enormous issue. For many years, social issues within seafood were basically a no-go zone. It was environmental sustainability that we are interested in. All of a sudden, scandals break that there is indeed slavery within these value chains. Consumers in Europe and the US are confronted with having to contribute to doing something about it. Overfishing in general, this flat line that I introduced to you in the previous slide, that is a concern. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Of course there’s a lot of geopolitics when it comes to fish and fishing. Especially fishing in the high seas. Who is actually catching those fish? Who is capturing those markets? We see the US and the EU all of a sudden being pitted against other superpowers, like China. And again, this is all news and information that consumers are confronted with So any consumer, like yourselves, heading into a supermarket all of a sudden have to deal with… …all of this news that you are getting. If you are engaging in a sustainable seafood movement, how are you doing that? The sustainable seafood movement has come up with a number of ways in which they are trying… …to enrol you as seafood citizens into changing. Contributing to global sustainability. Now at the start, they were looking at boycotts. Do not buy fish from these retailers, do not buy these certain species. Here, we have in 2004 Greenpeace during their rancid roadshow. And yes, they did dump bycatch on the steps of various retailers in the UK, as Greenpeace would. You have to get over the bycatch to go in and buy your seafood. But they moved away from those boycotts to what they call buycotts. And buycotts are essentially trying to steer consumers to not avoid seafood, But buy more sustainable seafood. Seafood which we can say deals with those social or environmental issues. And then I see people nodding around the room, we get to things like recommendation lists. In this country, the Good Fish Foundation. What we also now start to see, is a further proliferation to a whole range of labels and approaches Now all these labels and approaches are just for the tuna industry. Salmon has a similar list, but this is for the tuna industry. And as I said, the claims are starting to proliferate. Not only environmental, but moving to a range… …of other social issues. Equitable: is it fair? Is it traceable, is it transparent? Little do we know as consumers, but seafood is one of the most fraudulently traded products globally as well. So be careful if you are really eating tuna when you buy tuna. Is it legally responsible? And is there improvement? Can we demonstrate improvement? Can fishermen demonstrate improvement towards meeting these sustainability goals? Now all of these words, perhaps you have not heard of… But behind the label, behind the brands that you are buying, these are the discussions that are going on. And everyone in this sustainable seafood movement is trying to steer you, and people like my son… …to buy more sustainable seafood. Now it gets more complicated because we have first-party claims. So retail is saying: “Buy our products! Trust us, it is sustainable.” We have second party claims: retailers saying, well you can buy from our suppliers… because we have said that they are sustainable. But in the last twenty years of this movement, we have also seen a range of third party claims, and that is when you get to organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council, where they are saying: Well, here is a producer. We are going to certify that producer and they will enter… … a market for sustainable seafood. And we do not really mind where it ends up. As long as it carries our label, you will know that it is sustainable. What that also comes with, is a range of methodologies for measuring all of these claims of sustainability. So I’m painting a bit of a mess. Now, where does that mess essentially come from? It comes from, and I hope that is starting to come over, that this sustainable seafood, this idea of sustainability.. …is a contested issue. There is no clear definition, there is no consensus… …over what sustainable actually means. So that opens the space to interpretation, and people make claims and money on those various definitions. So one of the most important and prominent forms of claim making has emerged through certification. And particularly third party certification is what I want to focus on. But there are limitations to these approaches. Maybe you know these labels: the Marine Stewardship Council, Aquaculture Stewardship Council here in Europe, Global Aquaculture Alliance is for aquaculture, mainly in the US, North America, and Global Gap, you will not know the label perhaps, but it is an organisation which works with retailers… …to create business-to-business claims behind the consumers to what is sustainable. But there are limitations. First of all, market demand for sustainable seafood is not global. We will get back to that in a bit. When we come to actually looking at what impact these labels have, we have to look down the chain. We have to look down the value chain to producers. Because they are the ones that ultimately bear the cost… …associated with having to improve their production to comply with these standards. So it is an exercise in pushing these costs down the chain to producers. Now, that is important and it also colludes to constraints, because what we see… …is that the exclusion of the poorest performers, those that need the most improvements, generally are unable to engage with, these improvement processes. And what ultimately then happens, is that these producers become even more dependent on NGOs, on consultants, on states to help them improve towards these goals being set by these private labels. So, while they offer an interesting solution, there are clear limitations. This is a figure which helps us to think a little bit more about that. Here is improvement: from zero improvement to fully sustainable. And here we have the pre-certification phase, and over here, on your right, the post-certification phase. There’s a few things I can say about this graph. First, what we have seen over the last twenty years is… … most producers, who are able to demonstrate their sustainability, being certified. And the improvements that they make… There are improvements, but they are not likely to be as big… …as those who really need to make those improvements down in this bottom corner here. And that is really the improvement space that we have to address in global seafood. But these labels, these claims, have not done a great job of really looking into this space. So where certification has essentially been unable to reach those, we see a bunch of NGOs… …and even retailers and states, moving in to develop what they call improvement projects. Fishery and aquaculture improvement projects. These are designs, simply put, to try and assist these fisheries onto a pathway of improvement… …to move up to this bar and beyond. To be certified, essentially. But there have also been some big issues there as well. In this study, we looked at the fishery improvement projects that have been set up globally. From the developed and the developing world. And what we also see, is that these developing world fisheries… …move through five improvement phases set up by these NGOs. One, two, three, four and five. And what we see, is that while they have market access, these improvement projects at this second stage… …they are not improving beyond us, because there is no market conditionality for improving. Let’s take a step back and think about that for a second. What it essentially means, is that retailers, buyers that are meant to be pushing these producers to improve… …are actually having their certified product on the shelves, are inviting fishers and fish farmers to improve, to engage in these improvement projects… …giving the market access on the basis that they have an aquaculture or a fisheries improvement project… …but then, once they have market access, are not really holding them to account. Why would they? They need the volume of seafood coming in, while they also… …can make the claim that they are supporting sustainability. So there is an issue here. A big issue. How can we trust these retailers, who are essentially making money on these claims of sustainability? So the way I look at all of this, is in three dimensions. The first is we need to understand with any of these sustainability labels or processes, projects… …whether they are credible or not. Is a label credible? Is an improvement project credible? Can we trust us? Now, we can look at that in terms of scientific backgrounds. Are these projects based on a scientific understanding of sustainability? That is the first way we can do it. But we also have to balance that against two other important dimensions. The first is accessibility. Are these different attempts to move producers towards more sustainable production inclusive? Are they inclusive of a broad range of producers? Not those that can already demonstrate their sustainability, but those that also need to demonstrate and move towards a higher level of performance. Until now, that has not been the case. And if it is not the case, then that is another way of thinking whether these labels are indeed credible. In the third corner, we have continual improvements. These labels have to promote and push these producers to improve their production. And if they do not do that either, then we can also reflect on whether they are credible. Now balancing these three corners of this devil’s triangle is an ongoing dilemma… …for many of these consumer facing tools. So then it comes back again to the consumer. There is lots going on behind the screen. There is lots going on with the NGOs, with the retailers, with these labels, that consumers barely know about. It is a very complex system. But yet, you have to make some sort of decision. And the question I want to pose to you is whether consumers are actually equipped… …and in what ways they’re equipped, to engage with sustainable seafood. And is this notion of a label on a product the best way to go about actually engaging… …with the sustainability of this food source which is so important globally? Now, I want to introduce you to three modes all with certain trade-offs in terms of the devil’s triangle. Now the first, is what we have really covered already. That is the civic product consumption. That is basically what I have been outlining: that a product has a label. You as a consumer walk into a retailer you can choose a product, which is or is not labelled as sustainable. You have a choice as a consumer. Now, what I think that does in many ways, is create a narrow definition of a consumer citizen… …as someone who only can make change by engaging with a very specific product. I will explain why I think that is narrow in the next slides. What I have already said, is that this model enables retailers to shift costs down the chain to producers. They shift that burden to those that are trying to improve… …and in doing so, do not necessarily incur any cost themselves. If there is any incentive for improving; if there is a higher price that you as consumers are willing to pay, then we have to ask ourselves: if you pay that at the retail end, does it make it down the chain? And there is little evidence to show that that is actually the case. What it also does, and this is an important role for these NGOs… These NGOs are essentially enabling these retailers to outsource their risk. so if you as consumers say: “hang on, these products, are they really as sustainable as you claim? Then the retailers say: “well, we just sell the products. We are not actually setting up these claims. Go and talk to the MSC, go and talk to those NGOs.” So again, they reap benefits but there is very little exposure or risk to their own brand. I think that creates a problem as well. So are there other ways? Well, another way, and I have not really spoken about this thus far, but… …would be to move from the retail ends, this idea of a lead firm guiding and steering the entire chain… …down to somewhere in the middle of a chain. Now, one of the things we do not understand very well within the global seafood market… …is that there’s a whole range of companies, which control basically the entire seafood trade and markets. Is fact, it is not that big a range. 53% of the top 20% of firms are public, the rest are private. But what this actually means, is that these companies are exposed to shareholders. And shareholders is essentially another word for consumers. So can we, instead of thinking about products, also start to think about the role that consumers can play? Shareholders, perhaps activist shareholders, in shaping how the policies within a seafood firm… …which control vast flows of fish around the world, actually promote sustainability. Now, there are examples of how this already happens. There’s the equator principles for responsible investment, and there is a discussion going on… …at the moment in an organisation called the index initiative, here in the Netherlands… …to start to identify standards and ways to influence these keystone companies, as some call them… And how they might play a role in shaping sustainability. But again, consumers are there just in a different role. The third and last scenario is consumers in more of a lifestyle perspective. Consuming not products, but consuming the places where they buy fish. Retail, in the case of this country, the Netherlands. So what I would argue for, is that we should move away in this scenario from certifying products… …and we should instead certify retailers. And we should certify their performance, their behaviour… …and their support to producers to improve production. That is a very different way of thinking about it. So instead, if we go back to that story I said around improvement projects… …instead of seeing these improvement projects and the fish from these improvement projects being sold… …in retailers, and these retailers being able to get the volume of fish they need… …without actually pushing anyone to improve, retailers here would instead be promoted and essentially assessed on the basis of… …the sort of support they give to producers to improve their production. How inclusive are they? How credible are the claims they are making? And do they actually promote and support continual improvements of the fish that they are selling? And from the producers that they are buying from? And as I said, I think this addresses consumers in a different way. Not consumers on an individual basis: we are looking at groups of consumers in society… …choosing specific retail brands where they want to buy their fish. So it is not a matter of retailers playing one unsustain-able species off against another on the shelves. It is instead giving us the trust that if you walk into a retailer that they are behaving in a full… …spectrum of responsibilities when it comes to promoting sustainability. Now this is all good and well, but one thing I do want to point out: that it is a very European- and US-centric story. This global sustainable seafood movement claims to be global… …but where is it working other than places like Europe and the US? And I want to come back and just leave you with a thought: That even though developing countries are selling a lot of fish onto these international markets… – they account for half the fish exportwise – …they are accounting also for a very large proportion of the fish imports. So fish vulnerable countries like the US, like Europe, are going to face a dilemma in the future. Yes they can drive sustainability through markets, but their own fish insecurity is going to perhaps jeopardise their position… …and their leverage in these global markets through these mechanisms. Now, I have not got any answers for you there, other than that we have to understand consumption… …in much broader terms than simply the terms that we understand here in Europe. So what would I tell to Dan? Well, I would tell him that consumers do still matter. But consumers and social actors are not one thing. We can act in many different ways. And in fact we are engaged, whether we know it or not… …in a whole myriad a, whole network of relations not only with the retailers that we buy… …but also the NGOs that advise them and the various claim-making organisations like certification labels… …that are pushing for sustainability. But we can make choices how we would engage with that sustainability through the market. Consumers, in that way, are indeed enrolled in these markets way beyond that point of sale. What I also want to point out, is that these civic organisations remain central… …but innovation is still needed beyond product labelling. So we need to engage not only through the market, but through organisations that are influencing the market. And as I already said, we have to start thinking more about what works for the missing… …eighty-six percent of consumers that exist outside the EU and the US. Thank you.

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