New report finds 76% of major European retailers failing to address the sustainability of their farmed fish

A new report from the Changing Markets Foundation, Feedback and partner NGOs based in France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, has found that major supermarket retailers across the UK and Europe are turning “a blind eye to the destructive and unsustainable nature of their farmed fish supply chains; appalling conditions for farmed fish; and misleading consumers over the true impact of consuming farmed seafood”.

The Floundering Around report published days ago, provides a stark account of how Europe’s 33 major food retailers (representing 49 national supermarket chains across the EU and UK including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, LIDL and Asda) are failing to address key sustainability challenges in aquaculture.

“Despite being presented as a more environmentally friendly and sustainable form of protein, aquaculture in its current form is driving overfishing of the oceans, food insecurity in the Global South and poor fish welfare”, said the report of Changing Markets Foundation.

The most powerful players in the market

The alarming report explain that over three quarters of Europeans (77%) buy their fish from either a grocery store, supermarket or hypermarket. “With their enormous financial heft and role as intermediaries between consumers and the fish farming industry, supermarkets are the most powerful players in the market and should drive forward transformative change in the aquaculture sector by demanding higher sustainability and fish welfare standards”, in their opinion.

The report reveals that across six European countries, three quarters (76%) of supermarkets display a ‘near-total lack of substantive policies’ to address the lack of sustainability and transparency in their farmed fish supply chains. “Crucially, no retailer has a clear target for the reduction and phased-out elimination of wild-caught fish in feed”, they said in a press release.

The report shows only few retailers are taking positive steps towards eliminating or reducing the use of wild caught fish in feed. French retailer Auchan has a target for transitioning 50% of the farmed seafood it sells to feed which contains less or no FMFO (first manufactured, first out), while Tesco has a roadmap on how to accelerate the inclusion of alternative ingredients in feed.

“It is disappointing to see such a complete lack of leadership amongst European supermarkets when it comes to eliminating the use of wild-caught fish in aquaculture,” said Nusa Urbancic, Campaigns Director at the Changing Markets Foundation.

“For years, we have documented the devastating impacts fishing for feed has on oceans and on food security of vulnerable communities in the Global South. Supermarkets pay lip service to sustainability in their public statements, but refuse to take meaningful action to eliminate this damaging practice from their supply chains”.

Alongside the lack of attention to supply chain sustainability, the report also found that while UK retailers have taken some steps to improve supply chain transparency in recent years, they are failing in their duty to inform customers of the origin of the farmed fish and seafood they sell and none of the retailers reports on the composition of feed used in their supply chains.

27% of European retailers do not include producer or farm name on fish labels, do not require public reporting by their suppliers on the composition and origin of feed used on their farms, and do not appear to have any reporting on fish welfare indicators in place.

Calling on all the major European Food Retailers

The report also highlights significant shortcomings, when it comes to fish welfare. Half of retailers do not appear to require any reporting from their suppliers on fish mortalities and escapes, while very few retailers have safeguards in place to prevent high mortality rates on fish farms they source from.

Only Waitrose has detailed procedures in place for suppliers to report on mortality and escape rates and said it would blacklist farms with high mortality rates if no improvement was forthcoming. While Tesco does not have an upper limit on mortalities, it told us that in critical situations it would stop sourcing.

Urbancic opined that “industrial aquaculture causes untold suffering and yet most European retailers are failing to take steps to improve fish welfare in their supply chains. In the UK, salmon producers are planning to double production by 2030 which will almost certainly result in worsening conditions on farms. Retailers must push their suppliers to farm better or face serious reputational consequences”.

On the other hand, Jessica Sinclair Taylor, Head of Policy and Media at Feedback said: “Left unchecked, this unsustainable, unmonitored and unfair industry will cause irreversible environmental and societal impacts. We call on all the major European Food Retailers to recognise the vital role they can play in addressing the unsustainable nature of the aquaculture sector and demand a shift to more sustainable fish farming practices”.

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