This week McDonald announced that it will add the blue eco-label from the Marine Stewardship Council on the wrappers of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches in Europe. The largest food chain company in the worlds uses four species of wild fish for its sandwiches in Europe: cod, haddock, Alaska pollock and New Zealand hoki.
Why does this matter? McDonald's is committing to procure the 100 million fishes they consume every year only from MSC certified sources. Restaurant and supermarket chains represent about 70% of the seafood sales in the world and have a lot more bargaining power than consumers to influence fishing and farming practices with volume purchases.
Most supermarket chains are changing their procurement habit. Greenpeace publishes every year the Carting Away The Ocean report that ranks the top-20 supermarkets in terms of sustainability. Over the last few years, it has helped bring awareness to this critical environmental issue and influence large retailers like Safeway, which led the scorecard list this year. Wal-Mart was the first in 2006 to introduce MSC’s blue label in nationwide stores to distinguish sustainable seafood.
Does the eco-label help sales? McDonald's thinks that it will in Europe as they have been using sustainable suppliers but stayed away from licensing MSC's blue label. Their sustainable seafood policy is the same in the US, yet MCDonald's will not use the label there for now. The European arm faced more public pressure in a market more sensitive to food safety.
Joanna Trigg, a McDonald’s spokeswoman in London, notes that in North America “foods made with genetically modified ingredients are generally accepted, while that isn’t the case in Europe.” For granting McDonald’s the right to its blue label, MSC will receive 0.5% of the cost of the millions of frozen filets labeled in Europe where McDonald’s has 7,000 restaurants in 39 countries. “There have been some conversations about extending the deal to the United States as well” according to Ms. Trigg.
Sales in sustainable seafood soared in the UK earlier this year. Consumers started to ask for coley, dab, mussels, squid and sardines after species were championed on Channel 4's Fish Fight campaign. The cook and Guardian writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was credited with boosting demand. UK's fish! was the first restaurant chain in 2001 to use MSC's blue label.
MSC is a non-profit organization based in London and was founded by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever to encourage stores, restaurants and consumers to choose fish harvested in responsible ways. The MSC eco-label is awarded to fisheries that meet, at their cost, international standards relating to environmental, sustainable, management and traceability issues.
Sodexo also announced this week that it signed a global agreement with MSC to extend its pilot certification process across the 80 countries in which it operates. The agreement includes maintaining a wide variety of species in Sodexo’s catalogs and menus, banning at-risk species and implementing control measures for others.
In 2009, Sodexo was the first foodservice provider in the Netherlands to obtain the MSC eco-label and certification. The MSC certification was extended to 1,000 sites in the United Kingdom and Ireland working with Bureau Veritas in France.
Nicolas Guichoux, Regional Director for Europe at the MSC, said: “we are delighted to see one of world’s largest foodservice companies make such a commitment to certified sustainable seafood. their leadership will contribute to transform the global seafood market to a sustainable basis, which is also MSC’s top priority.”