Ecolabels... the french government has its own ideas / by Francisco Blaha

I have made my views on ecolabels very public on this blog over the years, one of my key objection is that the have hijacked the retailers into the “need” of having a private certification that is to be paid by the producers, in the name of the consumer.


I’ll have no issues if the ecolabels would be supported by consumers, as most NGOs do, get their money via donations of concerned citizens and the offer their certification for free fo fisheries around the world.

I find it ironical, when the evaluators of the ecolabels com to the fisheries organisations i work with, for tons of data and information, when in reality the whole thing started by a combination of NGOs seeking to correct what in their view is ineffective state governance… exactly the ones the assessors are visiting all the time.

I wrote last year about a paper I read that articulated quite a few of my high level doubts in way i could have never written my self, the paper is called "Evolution and future of the sustainable seafood market",

The origin of ecolabels was based on two general assumptions:
1), that information is key in driving consumers to select environmentally sustainable sources of seafood, and 2) resulting shifts in demand will, when transmitted down the value chain to the production sector, provide an economic incentive for improved fishing practices and fisheries management.

The proliferation of these claims and ecolabels has now led the sustainable seafood movement to a crossroads. More than 30 seafood guides and certification programmes developed which contribute to a crowded ‘seascape’ of consumer facing advice with bring to over 120 certification for fisheries and aquaculture… This 2019 publication identifies and analyse over 120!

But there is in fact limited empirical evidence that substantial changes in consumer demand for sustainable seafood have occurred (see the bibliography of paper mentioned above). Producers are also directly affected because they incur the costs of complying with different seafood programmes aligned to different importing markets. Incentives for compliance also remain unclear, given there is little evidence that price signals are seen by producersor that any changes in demand have resulted in substantial environmental improvements.

In addition, the proliferation of sustainable seafood programmes appears to lead to a number of potential challenges that remain less clearly articulated in the literature. The effect depends on the degree of heterogeneity in the labels and the overall objectives of the schemes. For example, a previous study demonstrated that the presence of several standards initially can be beneficial as the scope of an environmental problem is unknown and public recognition is poor, but over time fewer labels are preferable as environmental performance improves. Others have shown that there can be virtuous competition or a ‘race to the top’ between schemes as they refine their claims and methodologies to be the best in class. Conversely, a ‘race to the bottom’ may ensue if schemes seek market share over performance, as to keeping them self with a job

The reliance on guides and ecolabels to provide a signal of ‘measurable’ sustainability and to alter consumer demand with a goal of changing producer behaviour highlights two interrelated coordination failures in the original theory behind this. First, a vast body of literature indicates consumers prefer and are willing to pay more for ecolabelled seafood in several rich countries’ markets. However, it is increasingly unclear whether consumers actually demand more, or drive retailers’ demand for sustainable seafood. Second, it is not clear that any existing retail-level price premium is transmitted through the supply chain to producers to create an incentive for environmental improvements.

The weak transmission of price premiums from retail to producers is further challenged by the highly international and complex nature of seafood supply chains. Overall, 37% of global seafood production enters international markets, and 78% is estimated to be exposed to trade competition. Moreover, although global shares of exports from developed and developing countries are approximately equal at about 50% each, import shares are highly skewed. Developing country imports only account for 22% of global seafood trade, whereas developed countries import 78%. In spite of apparent demand in developed countries for certified sustainable seafood, the weak transmission of price signals that underpin the market-based theory of change.

Furthermore, I see it as further imposition from rich countries (who are not much an example of good fisheries management - otherwise they would not be importing so much seafood) over poorer countries, which makes me feel like either hypocrisy or neo-colonialism.

Against this scenario, here come the French government, with a public ecolabel promoting sustainable fishing (peche durable), combining a high level of requirements environmental (resource and habitat), to ethical requirements and quality of product.

Their public ecolabel “Peche Durable" meets the wish of the fishing industry to have a sign of quality to promote sustainable fishing including environmental, economic and social requirements. In July 2019, a first French fishery, located in Sète (Hérault), was certified.

This ecolabel follows the guidelines of the FAO on the eco-labeling of fishery products, enriched with new criteria (social and quality criteria) in order to focus on all the pillars of sustainable development.

An eco-abel commission has met regularly since 2012 to define all the criteria of the ecolabel reference system and the control procedures. This benchmark has been put into public consultation, and takes into account the comments of environmental NGOs.

The repository primarily concerns the candidate fisheries, then the operators of the marketing chain, from the first sale to the consumer.

To be certified, fisheries must comply with 4 requirements of the eco-label, verified by a certification audit:

  • Ecosystem: Ensure that fishing activity does not significantly impact the ecosystem, ie the targeted resource but also the non-target species and the habitat in which the fishery is evolving.

  • Environment: Ensure that fishing activity has a limited impact on the environment. The criteria include the reduction of the use of fossil energy as well as the management of waste or the prevention of pollution.

  • Social: Ensuring a satisfactory level of living and working conditions on board ships for crews. Criteria include safety and crew training.

  • Quality: Ensure a high level of freshness of eco-labeled products.

the fisheries go trough an impartial and transparent certification system: control is carried out by certifying bodies accredited by COFRAC, (the national accreditation body), each of these bodies acting in total and impartiality, in accordance with international certification standards (ISO 17065).

And their label is open to the international community, although registered in the French law, this label could apply to fisheries candidates from all countries.

Requirements for candidate fisheries::

These prerequisites (PR) must be verified prior to any certification process by the auditee.

PR1: The exploitation rate of the target stock must correspond to the MSY

PR2: There is an international management framework to maintain the precautionary stock concerned by the request for eco-labeling.

PR3: Fishing activity does not jeopardize the populations of marine species affected other than the targeted stock.

PR4: The flag State of the ship is a signatory to the International Labor Organization (ILO) agreements concerning the working conditions of fishing vessels.

PR5: States implement a strategy to obtain a good environmental status of the environment by 2020.

PR6: The loss of fishing gear must be reported to a management authority as soon as it is noticed

The requirements are divided into 4 themes: Ecosystem, Environment, Social, Quality. Each theme is broken down into principles that are themselves broken down into criteria. In total, the repository includes 36 criteria.

If you practiced french have a look here into their conditions, and they totally makes sense… and if you have to have one, this one will be my bet.

And this, again, represents what i like the most of the french… they excel at doing their own thing.

Said so, still an ecolabel, and as the authors of the paper cited above… I firmly believe we need to move on from that