Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bluewashing and ecofraud

A blog post over at New Scientist last week highlighted the confusing, possibly inaccurate advice consumers are receiving on "sustainable" seafood, urging conscientous seafood buyers to beware of "bluewashing." Bluewashing is the equivalent of greenwashing, wherein companies or labelling programs aim to convince consumers that they are buying an environmentally friendly product, even when they're not. Say there's package of single-use cleaning cloths made with a small portion of recycled materials. Is that really environmentally friendly? Single-use items pretty much violate the whole spirit of sustainability. Remember, it's reuse, reduce, THEN recycle. But at the same time, it's unreasonable to expect consumers to be able to research on their own every facet of an item's manufacture. That's why labelling must be accurate and based on high standards.

Bluewashing similarly takes advantage of the complexity of fisheries science and management to confuse consumers - perhaps a fishing operator is abiding by quotas set by a governmental ministry, which has decreed those limits sustainable, but the stock has shrunk below levels predicted by models. Is that fishery really being sustainably managed? That's exactly what some conservationists are asking about the MSC certification of the British Columbia sockeye salmon fishery. The fishery had to be closed last year when only one million fish returned to the river instead of the expected 10 million. MSC counters that the closure of the fishery indicates that it is being appropriately managed, and that new information on the stock will be considered (MSC fisheries are periodically re-evaluated). Again, does that really represent adherence to the precautionary principle MSC professes to use? If not, MSC certification is then mostly helping certain portions of the fishing industry provide the appearance of good environmental stewardship and charge higher prices.

I find this attitude troubling. If the main goal is, as MSC says, "fish for today, fish for tomorrow," why does it seem that the process seems to be primarily concerned with making sure that fishing operators who can prove they're doing a few things right get to make more money? Consider the proposed certification of a portion of the krill fishery in the Southern Ocean. Most krill is not used for human consumption, but for feeding farmed fish or processing into nutritional supplements. Even if the harvesting of krill is sustainable (and that's highly debatable), these uses don't exactly conform with sustainability principles. Salmon aquaculture needs several pounds of feed to produce a single pound of salmon (which often retails for around $8 - $10 per pound), and produces pollution. Krill oil capsules may offer protection against heart disease. Antarctic krill capsules are $20 for 30 at one online retailer. So we're not feeding the poor here. MSC's standards should reflect a much broader view of sustainability than their current certifications suggest, both because it's the right thing to do for the world's fish stocks and because it's unfair to consumers who believe they are paying for adherence to strict sustainability standards.

1 comment:

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