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Best Aquaculture Practices: A solution for sustainability

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Wally Stevens
October 01, 2007

Recent food-safety crises have pointed to the real need for, and value of, certification programs such as Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) that the Global Aquaculture Alliance has developed. Consumers are growing increasingly concerned about the safety of the food they purchase, particularly seafood. In response to that concern, retailers are looking for what amounts to an insurance policy that tells the consumer they can trust that the seafood they are buying is safe, reliable and responsibly produced. BAP is unique in that it offers the seller and the buyer such assurance.

While other organizations have developed comprehensive guidelines, none go as far as BAP to include third-party, independent certification to back up the claim that the food is responsibly produced and sustainable.

How does one define sustainability? While the term is often used to connote "environmental friendliness," one of the best definitions I've seen comes from winemaker Fetzer Vineyards, which defines it in its sales literature. Sustainability, in Fetzer's view, is the "integration of environmental responsibility, social equity and economic viability." These three important concepts are the backbone of GAA's Best Aquaculture Practices.

Creating sustainability standards is a thorough process, one that calls for the involvement of all aquaculture stakeholders. The process needs to be science-based at all times. As it goes forward in creating standards, the GAA errs on the side of science and objective measurements. Our hope is that these standards will provide assurance to the industry, to regulatory entities and ultimately to the consumer who is looking for quality and food-safety assurance: Our motto is "prevention, not detention." While environmental issues are important, the consumer is looking first and foremost for some indication that the seafood they eat is wholesome - safety and health are paramount. BAP standards play a significant role in assuring both industry and the consumer that the product they buy is safe.

This is as it should be, and the same truth that applies to wild fish should also hold true for farmed. Today, the GAA is delivering to consumers the assurance that the aquaculture products they purchase have been grown, harvested and processed under the highest standards. The BAP certification program introduced for shrimp in 2002 is about to apply to other farmed seafood species, such as tilapia and channel catfish.

The BAP standards, certified through site audits by the Aquaculture Certification Council, assure the consumer that the producer is following carefully considered standards for food safety, social responsibility and environmental conservation and protection.

The GAA is committed to working with buyers and sellers as they convey the importance of these standards to consumers. Sustainability may cost a few pennies more at the store or the restaurant. But those of us who are farming seafood are serious about operating our businesses in a responsible way so that what we grow will be enjoyed not just today, but tomorrow and by generations to come.

Wally Stevens is executive director of the Global Aquaculture Alliance in St. Louis

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