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Smells like marine stewardship
January 6, 2011 4:43 AM   Subscribe

If you think those 'sustainably sourced' logos all over your cod supper are too good to be true, you're probably right. (SL via the Guardian)
posted by londonmark (38 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) manages the labelling system that tells consumers which species of fish they can buy safe in the knowledge they aren't destroying stocks.

It recently celebrated the 100th award of its eco-label – to the Barents Sea cod fishery – but a series of decisions allowing controversial fisheries to be granted the prized MSC label has prompted severe criticism of the organisation.


Good. When you have a system where "stedwardship" councils award eco-labels which result in eco-consumers paying higher eco-prices - which is all well and good - you also have all the makings of a grift machine.

The MSC apparently needs as much oversight as the fisheries they oversee.
posted by three blind mice at 4:59 AM on January 6, 2011


What we need is an overseeing body to grant labels certifying non-corruptness to qualifying marine stewardship councils.

Ha, ha! Just kidding. What we need is to write down what fish taste like in as much detail as we can, so that we can explain it properly to our kids when all they have to eat is jellyfish.
posted by No-sword at 5:12 AM on January 6, 2011 [23 favorites]


What we need is to write down what fish taste like in as much detail as we can...

"Disgusting"
posted by DU at 5:20 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


No-sword: What we need is to write down what fish taste like in as much detail as we can...

DU: "Disgusting"


Why would writing down the taste of food be disgusting? Do you oppose food criticism on religious grounds or do you have a secular moral objection?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:45 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


More seriously, this is a problem with "certified sustainable," "certified organic," "certified cruelty-free" -- it's meant to put your mind to rest without doing time-consuming (and difficult, maybe impossible) research -- but it ends up being just another branding effort. Bah.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


All the makings of a grift machine.

It's frustrating as a consumer, because you can't possibly learn everything about everything you buy, and you can't really rely on certifications because there is kind of an inherent conflict of interest. Those with the most to lose are future generations who can't do anything about it. Even if ecologists made the decisions, they can't always agree, and they aren't always right when they do.

What we need is a time machine.

Barring that, maybe just a time capsule, for our apologies to our great, great grandchildren.
posted by Lorem Ipsum Wilder at 5:49 AM on January 6, 2011


More seriously, this is a problem with "certified sustainable," "certified organic," "certified cruelty-free" -- it's meant to put your mind to rest without doing time-consuming (and difficult, maybe impossible) research -- but it ends up being just another branding effort.

So true. We pay the pumped-up, larcenous demands of these so-called 'eco' producers so we don't have to bother our consciences with serious ethical considerations and all we're actually doing is lining some greasy entrepreneur's indifferent pockets. If there's a distinction between a genuinely ethical product and a slick, marketing facsimile, I don't know how to find it.
posted by londonmark at 6:00 AM on January 6, 2011


It's frustrating as a consumer, because you can't possibly learn everything about everything you buy, and you can't really rely on certifications because there is kind of an inherent conflict of interest.

That's why government regulation and enforcement is almost always the answer to structural industrial problems. Determining if something is produced safely or is safe to eat is a job for professionals whose salaries come from us.
posted by clarknova at 6:24 AM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why would writing down the taste of food be disgusting? Do you oppose food criticism on religious grounds or do you have a secular moral objection?

I'm pretty sure he meant "disgusting" as the description of how fish tastes. Fish is pretty much the only food in which the adjective form has purely bad connotations. "Garlicky?" "Beefy?" "Citrusy?" Those all range from neutral-good to hell-yeah-awesome. "Fishy?" Disgusting.
posted by explosion at 6:24 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]



No-sword: What we need is to write down what fish taste like in as much detail as we can...

DU: "Disgusting"

Why would writing down the taste of food be disgusting? Do you oppose food criticism on religious grounds or do you have a secular moral objection?


i lol'd
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:26 AM on January 6, 2011


Well, I'm not contributing to the problem; I don't eat cod.
posted by bwg at 6:30 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


More seriously, this is a problem with "certified sustainable," "certified organic," "certified cruelty-free" -- it's meant to put your mind to rest without doing time-consuming (and difficult, maybe impossible) research -- but it ends up being just another branding effort.

This isn't a problem with the concept of "certified" anything. This is a problem with the MSC. It's totally unreasonable to expect every consumer to individually audit the producers of what they eat. To suggest that we should abandon certification is kind of ridiculous. Certification is the next best thing after government regulation, and since governments don't have the spine to protect natural resources, consumers need to be given the choice. The only way they can choose is if someone informs them about their choices.

I would argue that this story is a sign that certification is a good system. The MSC has been exposed for doing a crappy (or possibly corrupt) job certifying seafood producers. Now they'll either clean up their act or some other certification will supersede them.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:34 AM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I gave up eating all fish a couple of years ago, for this very reason. I miss the hell out it, but I couldn't ethically convince myself that my tastes were worth the possibility of not having fish in the future.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:37 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now they'll either clean up their act or some other certification will supersede them.

Yeah that, or they will increase their lobbying budget and wait until this whole Guardian thing blows over.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:44 AM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


You said "cod supper."
posted by Shike at 7:13 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Salvor Hardin: "This isn't a problem with the concept of "certified" anything."

It kind of is, though, and I think the rest of your comment bears that out. The whole point of any kind of regulating body like that is precisely so that every consumer need not individually audit the producers of what they consume, and therefore the inevitable danger with any such body is that it will devolve into a meaningless rubber-stamper and/or a de-facto branding campaign.

Stories like this happen all the time. I agree that it's ridiculous to abandon certification, but this problem is like "justice" or "freedom"; the only general solution is to get ethical people in government bureaus. (A trivial exercise left for the reader.)

They've been exposed now and as you say will have to clean up their act. (Or, as the Doctor says, paper over it.)
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:22 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that if you have to label something as "ethical" you're doing it wrong.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:35 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's totally unreasonable to expect every consumer to individually audit the producers of what they eat.

Why? Why shouldn't you be responsible for knowing about what you eat, what you buy, what you essentially support? If it is too hard to find out if your fish is sustainably sourced, stop eating it. Because saying 'it's all too hard' isn't going to make the problem of disappearing fish stocks magically disappear. Rather than blaming the certifying agencies and programmes, maybe people should be looking at why they are considered a requirement in the first place.

If you don't care about disappearing fish stocks/sweatshop labour/timber sourced from virgin rainforest/animal testing, well I might have a problem with that, but I at least know why you don't look in to the producers of the items you consume. However, if you do claim to give a damn about these things, saying 'it's all too hard' is bullshit. The problem won't go away just because you can't be bothered researching if you are supporting it or not.
posted by Megami at 7:40 AM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


After extensive research about eggs, both on the nutrition and ethics side of the scale, my conclusion was that I need to buy them from my neighbor. Not only does she dote on those damn chickens, but they're all named after important feminist thinkers.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:42 AM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Imagine two sustainable fishing nonprofits stamping "sustainably sourced" logos. The first carefully researches the fisheries' practices, existing fish stocks regionally and globally, the amount being caught by companies applying for certification as well as others in the area, the role of the caught fish in the ecosystem, etc. The second just goes around and gives thumbs-up to anyone willing to pay the "nominal fee", and uses the revenue to rapidly expand their operations and PR

Welcome to natural selection for non-profits in a capitalist system
posted by crayz at 8:09 AM on January 6, 2011


Here's a revelation. If you're eating something, there's less of it in the world.
posted by xmutex at 8:17 AM on January 6, 2011


The problem won't go away just because you can't be bothered researching if you are supporting it or not.

I admire the sentiment, but come on: there are whole industries and cultural components that are expressly purposed to pull the wool over our eyes, and distact us (with means varied, subtle and powerful) from the fact that the economic and cultural choices made by us and our society are destroying our planet's ecosystem and resource stocks.

If you REALLY analysed evrything you did, you'd probably go mad and end up being a Jain. Philip Roth wrote about this
posted by lalochezia at 8:18 AM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


This isn't a problem with the concept of "certified" anything. This is a problem with the MSC. It's totally unreasonable to expect every consumer to individually audit the producers of what they eat.

I would say this is a problem with the concept of "certified". It is also unreasonable to expect every consumer to individually audit every certification agency out there. We need to regulate the certification process, so that it certification actually means something more than "we paid money to a certification company".
posted by fings at 8:31 AM on January 6, 2011


xmutex: Here's a revelation. If you're eating something, there's less of it in the world.

But we keep on consuming tremendous amounts of bullshit day after day, and it seems like every day there's more of it. Explain that.
posted by rusty at 8:48 AM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


However, if you do claim to give a damn about these things, saying 'it's all too hard' is bullshit. The problem won't go away just because you can't be bothered researching if you are supporting it or not.

I'm dying to hear of your superior research methods for finding the true story behind everything you consume.
posted by parudox at 8:57 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm dying to hear of your superior research methods for finding the true story behind everything you consume.

Um,no you're not. But since you put it out there - no, not everything I consume. But for example, the clothing I buy for myself or my child, I either buy second-hand or do my best to know who produced it and that it was not made with sweatshop labour. My food I try to know where it came from, and I try my best to find out where the packaging came from too. Any timber products - I do my best to find out if they came from sustainable sources. And I have just stopped buying so much stuff. I am a vegan, so I take the time to find out if what I am considering paying money for contains animal products.

Sure, some of my sources of information might be outright lies (I know it has happened with timber before). And yes, it means that buying things is a more fraught experience some times, and time consuming (back to the buying less stuff). But it is a choice I make. Do I expect everyone else to make this choice? Well no, not really, I accept this stuff doesn't matter to everyone the way it matters to me, as much as I wish it so. But I don't buy people implying that they would give a damn if only it wasn't so hard.
posted by Megami at 9:20 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


An alternative, if you're concerned about ecologically sustainable seafood, is to use the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists. They provide a lot of in-depth information about which food-fish are unsustainable or otherwise ecologically problematic, based on reviews of scientific information and fishery and farm reports. You can either just refer to their lists of "best choices" and "good alternatives" or you can read their in-depth whitepapers about each fish.

Sadly, if you do this, you will be unable to eat most sushi anymore. You will also become very annoying to wait-staff as you ask whether the skipjack tuna was pole fished or caught on a longline. You will be thrilled to discover that the supermarket is stocking arctic char, because you haven't eaten salmon in months, being unable to afford Alaskan wild sockeye.

Thank goodness clams, mussels, and oysters are always a good choice.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 9:38 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's why government regulation and enforcement is almost always the answer to structural industrial problems. Determining if something is produced safely or is safe to eat is a job for professionals whose salaries come from us.

Agreed! Government regulation is necessary. The invisible hand sometimes needs to be slapped, but it isn't "the" answer here. Law-makers, regulating bodies, and voters are also subject to various forms industry influence (even absent any corruption). Even absent any industry influence, none of the people involved will directly and immediately benefit by preserving the environment for the future.

That's why I think a grassroots moral change is required.
posted by Lorem Ipsum Wilder at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


By grassroots moral change, I just mean this: when most people see that it is wrong to sell out the environment for short term comforts, and wrong to sit on our hands, then we have a chance at change.
posted by Lorem Ipsum Wilder at 10:06 AM on January 6, 2011


More seriously, this is a problem with "certified sustainable," "certified organic," "certified cruelty-free" -- it's meant to put your mind to rest without doing time-consuming (and difficult, maybe impossible) research -- but it ends up being just another branding effort.

Hmm, not really. In Australia, for example, to become certified you need to lodge and.or adhere to an ISO standard. These standards are easy to find and access for the public, and they very clearly delineate between what is the standard, and what isn't. Now, you might have a problem with the standard itself - or it may be being audited/enforced terribly - as is happening in Australia with free-range eggs at the moment. But the certification itself isn't the problem there, it's the organisation selling, certifying and/or auditing.

Using the egg example, that's why there are several difference free-range certifying bodies now operating, and only some of them are up-front about what their process is and means.
posted by smoke at 2:30 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


xmutex: Here's a revelation. If you're eating something, there's less of it in the world.

Here's another one: Fish are able to reproduce. If we eat them at a low enough rate, there will be less of them in the world than there would otherwise, but still enough to keep eating them for the foreseeable future. If we eat them faster than that, they'll all be gone before too long. This is an important distinction and cannot be swept away by pseudo-hardnose sloganeering that implicitly supports the notion that unscrupulous people and corporations should be allowed to do whatever they want without considering the externalities in the slightest.
posted by No-sword at 2:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now, you might have a problem with the standard itself - or it may be being audited/enforced terribly - as is happening in Australia with free-range eggs at the moment. But the certification itself isn't the problem there, it's the organisation selling, certifying and/or auditing.

Well, there is also a problem with a system that allows various unregulated claims or watering down of terms with formerly clear definitions (Oh, yes, I am looking at you, American Agricultural System!), so the consumer, in many cases doesn't know what the standard really means. Which, on preview, more or less proves your point.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:18 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, there is also a problem with a system that allows various unregulated claims or watering down of terms with formerly clear definitions

Well, yes, but that criticism can be levelled at almost every institution and org in the modern world. That is a lot bigger than certification, which actually in effect is fighting against this the vast majority of the time.

Using MSC as a typical example of certification is not good; really it's very atypical, and only representative of a much smaller sub-section - albeit highly visible - of certification bodies.
posted by smoke at 3:29 PM on January 6, 2011


However, if you do claim to give a damn about these things, saying 'it's all too hard' is bullshit. The problem won't go away just because you can't be bothered researching if you are supporting it or not.

Hi there. I determine the counterparty risk for ALL of the North American fishing industry for Lloyds. Think of me as you own personal Marshall McLuhan. Hint: you're not Woody Allen.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:57 PM on January 6, 2011


OK, that was kinda smug, wish I had that edit button.

More to the point: it's nearly impossible for the coast guards of the US and Canada to police our fishing grounds; take a look at the rights issues in the Davis straight for an example of a hopelessly complex mix of poverty, taking advantage of first nations peoples, European profiteering and climate change giving everyone a good spanking.

And these are, globally speaking, minor fishing grounds. If anyone thinks anyone has a handle on how to research this properly, I'd be very willing to listen.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:01 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


"By grassroots moral change, I just mean this: when most people see that it is wrong to sell out the environment for short term comforts, and wrong to sit on our hands, then we have a chance at change."

Hasn't selling out the environment for short term gain kind of been the human modus operandi for the last couple of thousand years?

Check out this cool graph!
posted by sneebler at 6:29 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I gave up eating all fish a couple of years ago, for this reason. [...] I couldn't ethically convince myself that my tastes were worth the possibility of not having fish in the future.

Went cold turkey on fish (see what I did here!) for this very reason. Not missing it one bit though; how anyone can eat food that stares back at you with vacant eyes is beyond my understanding. Just me, I'm sure. :)
posted by the cydonian at 8:21 PM on January 7, 2011


"Hasn't selling out the environment for short term gain kind of been the human modus operandi for the last couple of thousand years?"

Yep. That's why it'd be change. I don't think that grassroots moral change automatically means a throwback to some supposed, "good old days," or assumption of past mores.

Though in fairness to the human race, I think it's only in recent centuries that we began to notice that we could pose any danger to the environment. Maybe less time than that. The idea that we could damage the whole planet's ability to support our continued existence is less than 75 years old, as far as I know. Prior to that time I think that the overwhelming battle to survive weather, disease, earthquakes, animals, and other catastrophes made nature seem like the primary threat to survival.

(Anyone more knowledgeable want to fine-tune, or totally dispute, the timing? It's certainly not something I've researched. It might be interesting.)
posted by Lorem Ipsum Wilder at 1:30 PM on January 25, 2011


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