By Kim Thanh Nguyen, ASC Trainer
I have worked in the seafood industry for almost 15 years in a variety of roles, including aquaculture auditing, factory quality assurance, fishery research and running a consultancy company, Kim Delta, based in Vietnam that provides training for the seafood industry in sustainability. The number of farms seeking ASC certification is steadily growing. However, for farms to become certified against the ASC standards, we need trained independent accredited auditors to carry out the assessments.
Last month, I was at auditor training workshops in Bangkok on ASC’s shrimp and tilapia standards. The training was delivered by Dr Kim Jauncey, who has worked within the research industry for many years and me, an ASC lead auditor.
Only accredited certification bodies are allowed to conduct ASC farm audits. And, successful completion of the ASC shrimp and tilapia training is a prerequisite for auditors who wish to assess farms against those standards.
The people taking part in the training in Bangkok came from a range of countries and backgrounds, including conformity assessment bodies (CABs); an NGO; a farmer association; and Accreditation Services International (ASI), which is the independent accreditation body for ASC certifiers. This diversity brought a range of legislative frameworks from different regions into the discussion (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Australia and Belize). And, what followed was a fertile conversation bringing observations about the implementation of ASC’s standards from different perspectives across the industry and countries.
“The diversity brought a range of legislative frameworks from different regions into the discussion …what followed was a fertile conversation bringing observations about the implementation of ASC’s standards from different perspectives across the industry and countries.”
As the training progressed each standard and its requirements were discussed in detail to ensure they were properly understood. Also, the attendees were offered guidance about what evidence or action is required during assessments followed by the opportunity to raise questions or discuss any queries.
The hotel ‘Renaissance’ hosted the training courses. Of course, we were interested to know how and where it sourced its seafood. We were pleased to find out that its seafood is sourced responsibly and it had engaged with WWF Thailand to source ASC certified seafood. This prompted discussion between Kim Jauncey, the participant from WWF Thailand and me about the challenges for small producers in Thailand in implementing ASC requirements.
The course not only gave participants the opportunity to learn about the material and details of the standards but also to discuss and share experiences and ideas with others across the industry. Discussions carried on late into the evening as we enjoyed local restaurants serving traditional Thai dishes, with delicious beer and live music.
Now a further 12 auditors are ready to carry out audits on farms seeking ASC certification.
Picture 1: Ms Kim Thanh Nguyen and Dr Kim Jauncey who led the training
Picture 2: The training participants, consisting of representatives across the industry
By Bas Geerts, ASC Standards Director
The ASC label on products assures buyers that their seafood purchase has been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Making sure that seafood is responsibly produced is of paramount importance for ASC.
A supply of responsible seafood now and in the future
The aquaculture sector has grown vastly in recent years and it is expected to grow a lot more over the coming decades. Although this is good news from a food security angle, this rapid growth may well come with undesirable and unintended side effects, including negative ecological and social impacts.
That is why environmental and social responsibility are the key pillars upon which the ASC programme is based. These inform the development of new standards, evolution of our current standards, and provide a guiding framework to address emerging new issues wherever possible, while ensuring we stay in close contact with a wide array of the sector’s stakeholders.
ASC’s role in this rapid growth is to help buyers in the market understand and acknowledge the significance of responsible fish farming; while encouraging consumer demand for responsibly farmed fish.
ASC’s core principles
To address environmental and social impacts effectively, the ASC standards for responsible farming have been organised around seven core principles, which require:
- legal compliance with national and local laws and regulations
- preservation of natural habitats, local biodiversity and ecosystem
- preservation of water resources and quality
- responsible use of feed and other resources
- preservation of the diversity of the wild population
- improved fish health and controlled and responsible use of antibiotics and chemicals
- farms to be socially responsible toward their workers and the local community.
Requirements in the standard are metric and performance-based. This means that the standards do not describe what a farm should do, but rather what it should achieve (performance level); providing a clear metric, measurable value. This enables innovation, as farms continue to improve their performance, while being certified. A metric and performance-based approach also enables more objective assessments. These are important differences with regards to other standards.
The social requirements in the standards are based on International Labour (ILO) conventions and focus on the farm workers and the community around the farm. For the farm workers, requirements include safe working conditions, fair wages and working hours, the right to take collective action (e.g. join labour unions) and access to transportation, among others.
The community around the farm is also important because this too might be negatively affected by the farm’s operations. This could be related, for example, to matters such as water contamination, pollution or truck movements to and from the farm.
To adhere to the social requirements, a farm must regularly, effectively and proactively reach out to relevant stakeholders. This includes holding regular open and fair meetings in the local community. And, independent, qualified social auditors assess that the farm is meeting all of the requirements during the farm’s audit.
The ASC standards are developed in such a way to make sure a farm’s social impact is limited to the fullest extent possible. This doesn’t mean that everyone’s requests are completely accepted, but all interests are considered in a fair and transparent way. The auditors will assess whether effective practices have been put in place by the farm to respect their workers and the community and they will also determine whether the processes are carried out respecting the standard’s intent.
From an environmental perspective siting of a farm is of critical importance. Nature conservation areas must be respected and protected and the impact on the wider environment and biodiversity have to be considered.
Once established, the farm’s negative impacts need to be limited as much as possible. For example, water needs to be treated properly; and, the use of treatments needs to be carefully regulated, documented and monitored. To minimise further impact on the environment, discarded water at the end of production must not exceed (metric) limits set out in the standards to prevent harmful effects on the local environment.
Another aspect is aimed at minimising the impacts of the farm’s inputs, a major one being fish feed ingredients. Its main ingredients need to meet strict requirements prescribed in our standards. To drive further improvements we are in the process of developing a separate feed standard. The final version of this standard is due to be published in mid-2016.
Food safety and animal welfare
ASC’s standards do not have specific requirements covering food safety or animal welfare as these are not the programme’s goals. The ASC programme was established with a mission to transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility. This decision was taken when the standard development processes started in 2003 and was reconfirmed in the ASC’s deed when the organisation was officially founded in 2010.
Nonetheless, since an ASC certified farm needs to apply best practices for animal health and husbandry this does benefit the quality of the product, contributing to food safety, and ensures the animals are cared for well, contributing to improved animal welfare at the farm. For example, the standards include strict requirements around the use of antibiotics, maintaining good quality water, and growth ratios for fish, which can only be achieved if the fish are healthy and farmed in good conditions.
The ASC standards do not try to replace well-operating and well-respected specific welfare or food safety standards. Many of the welfare or food safety issues go beyond the farm, which is the ASC’s unit of certification. Other existing standards are available to meet such requirements directly. The ASC has taken a proactive approach to facilitate an effective and efficient farm assessment against different standards to cover this wider array of issues. Joint checklists to this extent were published earlier this year.
Lastly, the ASC realises all too well that it operates in an ever-changing world with changing stakeholders’ needs. Within this changing reality the ASC will maintain alignment with relevant stakeholders to jointly identify improvement areas so it continues to contribute effectively to its mission: transforming aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility using efficient market mechanisms that create value across the chain.
By Pasquale Comità, Communication & Social Media Intern
During my studies in Business Communication, I developed a passion for logos and their capacity to convey messages, concepts and even emotions through simple visual artwork.
Logos bridging the informative gap
Knowledge and information about the specific characteristics of products are asymmetrically allocated between consumers and producers. Nowadays, consumers want more information and are becoming more demanding about the quality, provenance and production of products. To satisfy this thirst for knowledge, logos are useful tools in transmitting the complex set of information consumers are looking for.
Overall, logos provide two specific functions for consumers: the ‘information function’ and the ‘value function’. The former is achieved by conveying information about the intangible characteristics of a product, e.g. quality; while the latter provides an intrinsic value derived from the product itself, e.g. credibility.
Specifically, when it comes to sustainability, logos have the additional function of informing consumers about the environmentally and socially responsible models of production, and enhance and support the more sustainable approaches used by producers and governments.
ASC logo reflecting independence and trust
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council manages an independent, third-party certification programme, which recognises and rewards responsible aquaculture. Third party certifiers audit farms against the ASC standards, and farms must prove that they are using responsible methods that reflect best practice while minimising environmental and social impacts.
It is indeed acknowledged that the existence of an independent third party assessing the validity and reliability of the information conveyed through a logo is of utmost importance: for the logo to gain credibility and for it to be considered reliable and trustworthy; hence, able to accomplish its informational task. The ASC’s logo therefore gives consumers confidence that they are choosing seafood products that are fully traceable to a well-managed farm and have been independently certified as farmed responsibly.
The trustworthiness of a logo is also greatly amplified when it is given an official endorsement by a relevant international or national organisation because it conveys unbiased and objective information to consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. On this respect, the ASC was founded, and is supported, by both the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and the IDH (Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative), while the ASC Standards for responsible aquaculture were directly developed by the WWF Aquaculture Dialogues. The reputation of such reliable organisations’ commitment towards achieving environmentally sustainable and social responsible aquaculture is conferred to the ASC logo.
The reputation of the ASC logo and everything that it stands for is then conferred to the products that carry the logo.
ASC logo and traceability
Traceability provides assurances to consumers and is perceived by consumers as adding value to a product. ASC Chain of Custody (CoC) certification, confirms through every step in the supply chain that the seafood originates from an ASC certified farm. No business in the supply chain can make a claim that seafood is ASC certified or label it with the ASC logo unless they have undertaken a detailed traceability audit to meet the ASC Chain of Custody requirements.
How the ASC logo adds value to brands
Using the ASC’s logo brings a range of benefits to any company in the supply chain. It reinforces their good practices, demonstrates their commitment to responsible production and allows them to make credible claims about the origin of their ASC certified seafood to their customers.
In turns, through the ASC logo on product, consumers are reassured that only seafood from a certified farm will arrive on their table and it allows them to help protect the marine environment and the livelihoods of local communities.
By ThanhVan Cao, ASC Senior Standards & Certification Coordinator
I am relatively new to the ASC, so I still have the benefit of an ‘external’ view of the business. Currently I am carrying out an assessment of ASC’s standard setting and assurance activities against the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice.
Meeting widely recognised requirements
The ASC standards as well as the certification programme are developed and implemented according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and ISEAL Alliance guidelines. ISEAL is a membership organisation for sustainability standards; to become a member we must demonstrate that ASC meets the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice and accompanying requirements.
This means that the ASC standards and certification process must abide by ISEAL’s credibility principles and have effective systems in place covering standard-setting, impact evaluation and assurance. For example, ASC’s standards enshrine multi-stakeholder engagement and transparent processes.
ASC is currently an associate member of ISEAL and in the process of becoming a full member. This is the basis for the assessment that I am working on: gathering evidence to demonstrate ASC’s compliance with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for standard setting, together with showing how it meets other requirements for assurance processes, monitoring and evaluation.
Impartiality through independent assessment
‘Impartiality’ is one of ISEAL’s credibility principles. This principle is at the core of how ASC functions. ASC operates as an independent, third-party certification programme to ensure the highest level of impartiality.
Independent third party auditors audit farms against ASC’s standards to assess whether they are operating responsibly. The certification body (Conformity Assessment Body – CAB) must be accredited by Accreditation Services International (ASI). ASI assesses the CAB against ASC’s certification and accreditation requirements. This assessment includes annual evaluations of the accredited CABs and the audits that they perform.
Only farms that are certified by a CAB accredited by ASI are eligible to sell ASC certified product into a recognised chain of custody.
Instead of working with multiple accreditation bodies, ASC has exclusive collaboration with ASI, which itself has to follow the good practices set out in the ISO/IEC 17011 and ISEAL Assurance Code.
The value of working with only one accreditation body is the consistency it provides when assessing CABs and the competence of their auditors across the countries in which they operate. At the same time, it is also more effective for the ASC’s learning process as a standard setting organisation; information coming from different channels (certifiers, stakeholders and farms) is funneled through one hub (ASI) and distilled in valuable lessons to continuously improve the ASC programme.
Publicly available information
In line with the credibility principle of ‘transparency’ ASC publicly shares a wealth of information, including governance details and audit reports.
On the ASC website you can find minutes of all the governance bodies’ meetings, such as the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), Steering Committees and Working Groups.
All of ASI’s accreditation assessments and ASC farm audits are announced in advance on respective ASI and ASC websites.
Stakeholders have at least 30 days in which to comment before a farm assessment is carried out. The draft audit report is prepared by the assessor and is then posted on ASC’s website for public comment for ten days, after which the report is finalised taking account of feedback before being made publicly available on the ASC website.
This practice goes beyond the requirements of ISEAL, which includes, as guidance for optional practices, providing a summary of the final report. However, for ASC, it is important that we have a procedure which allows stakeholders not only to provide their inputs to the assessment and decision-making process, but also for them to object to the certification decision if they have reason(s) to do so.
When I started, to be honest, I was actually wondering who would take the time to read all those long reports. But this is important to our stakeholders; they really care, read the reports and contribute to the process by sending in their comments. This exemplifies the real value and essence of a transparent process.
Despite the ASC programme only being in operation since 2012, I think it’s on a good track to demonstrate its credibility.
We caught up with Leonor Fishman, Product Integrity Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), to talk about the concept of Chain of Custody, why it is important, and how companies can get certified.
Leonor has worked at the MSC since 2011; originally in the Logo Licensing team, before moving over to the Product Integrity Team within the MSC Standards department in 2012. As part of the Chain of Custody Program Review, undertaken this year, she has worked to improve the Chain of Custody Certification Requirements by making them clearer and more accessible for global Chain of Custody auditors.
1. What is the link between MSC’s Chain of Custody and the ASC?
The MSC shares the Chain of Custody programme with ASC. This means that a company can undergo one audit to be certified to sell both MSC and ASC products. The MSC also administers use of the ASC logo.
2. What is Chain of Custody?
MSC Chain of Custody is a traceability and segregation standard that is applicable to the full supply chain from a certified farm to final sale.
To sell certified seafood, processors, traders, and restaurants must be audited by a third-party certifier that verifies compliance with the MSC Chain of Custody standard.
This ensures that certified seafood is sourced from a Chain of Custody certified supplier, is not mixed with uncertified product, is kept separate and identified, and is fully traceable – providing assurance that any seafood sold or labelled as ASC originated from an ASC certified farm.
3. Why is traceability (Chain of Custody certification) important?
Substitution and mislabelling of seafood is a globally-recognised problem. With a complex international supply chain for many seafood products, Chain of Custody ensures that companies selling certified seafood have identification, segregation and traceability processes and procedures in place.
The Chain of Custody team carries out full supply chain reconciliations and DNA testing on a sample of labelled products to test the Chain of Custody system for additional supply chain assurance.
4. How can a company become Chain of Custody certified?
Chain of Custody certificates are issued by independent, third-party certifiers, not by the ASC.
There are 4 steps to achieving Chain of Custody certification:
Step 1: Nominate someone who will be responsible for implementing and maintaining Chain of Custody in your business.
Step 2: Shop around and choose a certifier. The ASI website provides a list of certifiers who are able to conduct Chain of Custody audits. Ask about all aspects of the services they provide as well as the costs.
Step 3: Schedule your first audit and start preparing. During the audit, your certifier will check whether the processes and procedures you have put in place meet the requirements of the Chain of Custody standard. They will do this by checking records or certified product, interviewing staff, and observing how your company identifies, segregates and traces certified product.
Step 4: If your company passes the audit and closes out any non-conformities raised, a Chain of Custody certificate is granted for three years. During this period, your certifier will also carry out surveillance audits to ensure your systems continue to meet the requirements in the Chain of Custody standard. After three years, your company can be re-certified to remain in the Chain of Custody programme.
For more information about Chain of Custody and how to be part of the programme, please visit the Chain of Custody supply chain section of the MSC website.
5. What are the benefits of Chain of Custody certification?
Global consumers are increasingly concerned about seafood, demanding assurance that products are responsibly sourced and traceable.
Chain of Custody certification allows companies to demonstrate their commitment to responsible sourcing and to provide evidence of their seafood claims through an independently-verified mechanism.