When fish welfare was discussed at a recent meeting of EU politicians, ASC’s Head of Standards & Science Michiel Fransen was on hand to deliver expertise based on ASC’s ongoing work in this area.
While debates on animal welfare in the agriculture industry have been underway for many decades, until recently there has been less discussion of the topic in aquaculture, in part because of a lack of knowledge and research and in part because of the relatively recent growth of the aquaculture industry.
That is starting to change, as the rapid growth of the industry has led to more research of the animals involved, and greater awareness of the need to include their welfare in considerations about what responsible aquaculture means.
This was reflected in the meeting of the EU’s Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, at which Members of European Parliament (MEPs) discussed the possibilities for integrating fish welfare into the EU’s aquaculture development plans. The Intergroup brings together MEPs from all political groups to discuss and take action on animal welfare issues. The EU is currently drafting the Strategic Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of Aquaculture, which will establish priorities and subsidies for the industry over the coming years.
So what did Michiel tell MEPs, and what does ASC have to say about this increasingly important issue?
Michiel’s presentation set out ASC’s objectives for its animal welfare work, what work has already been completed towards these objectives, next steps and some of the challenges faced.
ASC standards already include requirements that cover animal welfare, but has been working to expand and standardise these, using the very latest science to address the concerns and demands of consumers and other NGOs. ASC is not an organisation that was ever intended to stand still – ongoing review based on the latest knowledge and developments is inbuilt into the programme.
ASC has already engaged with retailers, industry bodies, academics and fellow NGOs, and has consulted on a Terms of Reference and position paper, which were well received, with responses making clear there is clear demand for the work ASC is undertaking in this area. A Technical Working Group (TWG) is about to be set up – as with all of ASC’s working groups, this one will be multi-stakeholder and includes experts from all of the above sectors.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, the TWG will assess the current research and collaborate with academics to develop an assessment model, while also drafting the requirements themselves, which will be integrated into ASC’s upcoming aligned Farm Standard – applicable to all ASC species.
One of the key challenges of the work is that the term ‘fish welfare’ belies a huge diversity in the species covered by ASC standards – a salmon doesn’t have the same welfare needs as a shrimp, for example. This challenge is compounded by the research gap that exists between species, which can also lead to misconceptions among consumers and others about what constitutes good practice when it comes to the welfare of different species.
As the Intergroup has noted, the relative youth of aquaculture as a major food industry presents an opportunity to ensure that animal welfare is integrated into its development from an early stage. The ASC programme uses market forces to encourage producers to act in a more responsible way, and in the coming years a lot of work will go into expanding what this means to include more requirements on animal welfare. But ASC is also a collaborative organisation, recognising that industry-wide change comes quickest when NGOs work with retailers, producers, governments and more – and Michiel’s presentation to European lawmakers was a perfect example of that. ASC will continue to work closely with everyone who shares the goal of an aquaculture industry that acts in an environmentally and socially responsible way.