European Union: EU To Debate Eco-Labelling Of Fisheries Products

Last Updated: 5 September 2005
Article by Jackie Smith

The European Commission issued on 29 June 2005 a Communication on eco-labelling of fisheries products1. The Communication is designed to launch a debate on the best way ahead regarding the ecolabelling of fisheries products, given the growing interest in and proliferation of voluntary private schemes and initiatives in various international fora, including the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation ("FAO") and the World Trade Organisation ("WTO").

Background

This initiative reflects the growing interest by environmental Non-Governmental Organisations ("NGOs") and increased public interest in food products associated with considerations related to environmental sustainability. A number of eco-labelling schemes have already been established with regard to fisheries products and other initiatives are being developed. Notable early schemes included the Marine Stewardship Council Scheme, launched initially in 1997 jointly by Unilever and the Worldwide Fund for Nature, and various dolphin-friendly tuna labelling schemes. Other more recent schemes include Unilever's fish sustainability initiative and Carrefour's logo "Pêche responsable". The Communication suggests, however, that more generally it is not always easy to establish how reliable some eco-labelling claims are.

In the meantime, international guidelines on eco-labelling have recently been adopted, in March 2005, by the FAO following discussions over a number of years. In parallel, discussions on these issues and their potential effects on free trade areas are progressing in the WTO committee on Trade and Environment. These have focused on voluntary schemes based on the life cycle approach2.

Objectives

The Commission claims that it is committed to the integration of the environmental dimension into fisheries and wants to make the most of eco-labelling of fish and fisheries products. It views eco-labelling as a means of integrating environmental protection concerns into the fisheries sector.

General objectives of such schemes are identified as being to stimulate consumer awareness in view of the environmental dimension of fishing, and thereby to encourage environmental responsibility on the part of managers and fishermen.

The Commission believes that voluntary eco-label schemes should be encouraged, not least because market incentives might induce producers to move towards more responsible fishing practices. However, it also believes that public authorities too have responsibilities to support sustainable fisheries and consequently eco-labelling should not be viewed as an alternative to government conservation policy.

The Communication identifies six additional aims of such a policy, namely:

  • sustainable fisheries and an adequate level of protection of the ecosystem: the Commission claims that eco-label schemes (if based upon clearly defined criteria and appropriate indicators) can contribute to monitoring progress made on sustainable fishing and in raising public awareness of sustainability issues
  • a harmonised approach to eco-label schemes across the EU: this would assure consumers that all eco-label schemes within the EU follow similar basic guidelines and principles
  • transparent and objective information to consumers: clear, verifiable information assists informed choice, avoids misleading claims and assists consumer protection
  • fair competition: the use of misleading claims and eco-labels should be avoided and labels should be more than simply promotional tools for individual companies
  • open access: non-discriminatory open access should be guaranteed to all eco-label schemes and the cost of participation should not be prohibitive, especially for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises)
  • trade and development: the concerns of developing countries should be given due consideration.

Policy Options

The Commission considers that the key question for public authorities is to what extent voluntary eco-labelling schemes should be subject to rules in order to protect public interest.

The Communication suggests three possible options to develop this concept further in the EU and highlights a number of advantages and disadvantages in respect of each:

  • Retaining the status-quo and leaving voluntary schemes to develop freely:

A key advantage would be the clear separation between the private sector marketing initiatives and the conservation and sustainable development activities managed and enforced by the public authorities. Such schemes would also be more flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.

However, without independent certification and accreditation the reliability of private schemes would be questionable. Moreover, the Commission points out that unlike other labelling schemes, such as the EU's organic product labelling, there is no consensus on what an eco-label in the fisheries sector really means (for example some focus on management of stocks, others on the impact of certain techniques). A further potential disadvantage of this option, among others, is that the proliferation of different schemes in the Member States could undermine the internal market by creating barriers to trade.

Overall, the Commission does not, at present, recommend to pursue the non-action option.

  • The creation of a single EU eco-labelling scheme:

Among the arguments in support of this second option, the Commission reports that a single Community eco-label scheme could serve to re-assert the prerogatives of public authorities in the management of fisheries resources. Moreover, private eco-labels could disrupt the market by differentiating between groups of products and also by creating confusions arising from competing schemes. That is a single scheme would ensure credibility through higher environmental standards, independent guarantees of compliance and added authority. However, the Commission states that it is not persuaded by these arguments. It also notes that a publicly managed single scheme would present other problems, such as organisational and logistical complexities (not least that for each fishery the EU would need to agree what an eco-label should certify) and potential costs.

  • The establishment of EU minimum requirements for voluntary eco-labelling schemes:

The third option, and the Commission's preferred one at the present time, is for the EU to specify a set of minimum standards and criteria for voluntary demand-led eco-label schemes. The advantages of this approach include, for example, that schemes could develop freely through public and/or private initiatives so long as they comply with the minimum requirements, including appropriate verification and accreditation criteria. This would also maintain flexibility and diversity of schemes and demonstrate to the consumer that the behaviour of the fishing industry contributes to sustainability. Such schemes would therefore play a full role as a commercial incentive and would, in the Commission's view, encourage better governance in the fisheries sector.

Other advantages in the Commission's view are the fact that the criteria would provide a safety net to avoid distortions of the market or misinformation of the consumer and ensure a certain level of consumer protection. It would also provide incentives for industry to pursue high-standard environmental objectives. Existing schemes could also be integrated into the new framework.

The Commission states that it believes currently that the third option would be the most appropriate. However, prior to following this approach, it is promoting debate on the issues involved with the other EU institutions and with stakeholders.

The questions on which the Commission hopes to provoke debate include among others:

  • what should an eco-label scheme certify: a fishery, a fishing method, any other component? Should single issue labels be considered as an integral part of an eco-label policy?
  • should the approach be more result oriented or means oriented?
  • how can the potential of eco-label schemes be exploited fully for the promotion of sustainable fisheries, while yielding real benefits for fishermen, processors and consumers?

Footnotes

1. Com (2005) 275 final (29 June 2005) Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee launching a debate on a Community approach towards eco-labelling schemes for fisheries products.

2. The Communication (Annex I) defines life cycle approach as "a methodology considering environmental impacts associated with any phase of the product life from the delivery or generation of natural resources to the final disposal".

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions