Industry demand for the "sustainable seafood" label, issued by the Marine Stewardship Council, is increasing. But some environmentalists fear fisheries are being certified despite evidence showing that the fish population is in trouble — or when there's not enough information to know the impact on the oceans.
Rebecca Weel pushes a baby stroller with her 18-month-old up to the seafood case at Whole Foods, near ground zero in New York. As she peers at shiny fillets of salmon, halibut and Chilean sea bass labeled "certified sustainable," Weel believes that if she purchases this seafood, she will help protect the world's oceans from overfishing.
But some leading environmentalists have a different take: Consumers like Weel are being misled by a global program that amounts to "greenwashing" — a strategy that makes consumers think they are protecting the planet, when actually they are not.
At Whole Foods, the seafood counter displays blue labels from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international, nonprofit organization. The MSC is a prime example of an economic trend: Private groups, not the government, are telling consumers what is good or bad for the environment. The MSC says its label guarantees that the wild seafood was caught using methods that do not deplete the natural supply. It also guarantees that fishing companies do not cause serious harm to other life in the sea, from coral to dolphins.
The idea is spreading fast throughout the food industry. Megachains like Target, Costco and Kroger are selling seafood with the MSC label. McDonald's says you are munching on "certified sustainable" wild Alaskan pollock every time you eat a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. The fast-food company has used MSC-certified fish since 2007 in the U.S., and as of February, they are putting the MSC logo on their fish sandwich boxes.
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