Canada gets a grade of F for its seafood labelling regulations, according to a new report from environmental advocacy group, SeaChoice, which says that in comparison to Europe and the United States, Canada’s labelling practices are much too vague, leaving consumers in the dark about what country fish products actually came from and whether they were farmed or wild.
“Inadequate seafood labelling means consumers don’t have adequate health and environmental information about the product,” says Colleen Turlo, co-author of the report from the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, a contributing member of the SeaChoice coalition, to CTV News. “It’s shocking that our products from Canada are being sold with more detail in the United States and the European Union than they are in Canada,” said Turlo.
The report lists six requirements for well-labelled seafood: packaging should state the seafood’s common name, its scientific name, production method (farmed or wild), method of harvest as well as both the place of origin and the last country where major processing of the product took place. The EU gets a grade of A for having all six on its seafood products while the United States received a D for having three of six.
Canadian regulations under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency only require that foods list the product’s common name and country of last major processing, thereby leaving out essential details that impacts consumers. Without the need to list the country of origin, says the report, fish caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence by a Canadian fishing vessel and then exported to China for processing into fillets would be labelled in Canadian stores as “Product of China.”
Inadequate labelling further harms Canada’s ability to meet its commitments under international trade agreements such as the new Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU. “As part of the negotiations [under CETA], Canadian fisheries products are expected to meet Rules of Origin,” says the report. “Without domestic mandatory requirements that govern product origin, Canada’s accountability to CETA is put at risk.”
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Canada produces about a million tonnes of fish and shellfish every year and imports roughly another three-quarters of a million tonnes from other countries. The bounty of seafood products adds up to a lot of choice and variety, says Turlo, but without knowing whether a fish is farmed or wild keeps Canadians from being able to make informed choices and ethical purchasing decisions. “Those are some pieces of information that can help narrow down whether something is overfished and whether the region has strong fisheries management,” says Turlo.
The report calls for the government to amend its food labelling policy, arguing that consumer awareness of the environmental and sustainability impacts of foods is currently on the rise. The issue of seafood fraud, for example, (cases where a seafood product turns out to be different from how it’s advertised) is one of which consumers are well aware. A study earlier this year from Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Management found that 42 per cent of Canadians surveyed believed that they had at some point bought a counterfeited food product, with seafood and fish found to be the most-selected category of potentially counterfeit food.
Last October, the federal government announced plans for a major overhaul of Canada’s healthy eating guidelines, including new rules for food labelling.