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Editor's Note: Who should push the envelope?
by Fiona Robinson
May 04, 2012
Ten years ago the office joke used to be that if you couldn’t get a buyer on the phone, it’s probably because he or she had gone to work for a supplier. Today, the assumption is that they’ve joined a non-governmental organization (NGO) that dishes out sustainability advice to buyers. Over the past few years, with so many different sub-sections within the sustainability movement appearing (i.e., certification, traceability and a group I call “buyer advice” that helps retailers and restaurant companies decide what to offer), it’s become an industry unto itself. Just check out the Aquaculture Stewardship Council progress on page 10 to see the latest on that group. But here’s a question that has been asked aloud recently: Is it necessary?
While the topic has been discussed behind closed doors for several years, industry leaders are starting to vocalize doubts that NGOs funded by private companies, which invariably have their own political agendas, should be setting seafood sustainability standards for the industry.
NGOs have been necessary to push the envelope with policymakers, but not to the extent that they are influencing the outcome of a public resource. U.S. officials have been trying to remind the industry for many years that the nation’s fisheries are, for the most part, being managed under plans that instill sustainability. The problem is that NOAA has done a poor job of marketing this to anyone willing to listen. The government doesn’t have the large coffers and marketing expertise that NGOs have in order to develop a slick sustainability campaign that is easy for seafood buyers to decipher. Considering the political wrangling in the EU (see Top Story, April SFB), it’s clear continued NGO presence there will be necessary to ensure that the Common Fisheries Policy is reformed.
While NGOs have been instrumental in building programs for the industry to disseminate information to buyers, as evidenced by the fact that the Seafood Summit will be in its 10th edition later this year in Hong Kong, the discussion for the industry now should be, “What next?”
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