By Esther Luiten, ASC’s Commercial Manager
I have been responsible for ASC’s outreach work since mid-October 2013. My primary role is to make sure that committed retail and brand companies can find certified supply and vice versa.
The ASC aims to use the ASC logo and its certification programme to gain recognition for and reward responsible aquaculture practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood. Ultimately, and by working with our diverse partners, we aim to help transform the seafood market towards sustainability. We believe in a world where aquaculture plays a major role in supplying food and social benefits for humanity whilst minimising negative impacts on the environment.
For me this is the essence of what we – as a certification and labeling programme – do. It captures our theory of change and it is exactly this that makes me passionate to work for the ASC. But an important question to ask is ‘does my mother understand it’?
Does my mother understand this?
If I listen to my mother when talking to her friends they are basically confused. Confused by the variety of seafood claims on sustainability in the supermarket. And, even more importantly, they don’t trust food anymore because of the increasing number of scandals.
To add to that, when I tell my mother’s friends about my work, they are often surprised to hear that seafood is farmed. They also usually don’t know where the products are coming from, apart from believing that “fish that is from ‘far away’ cannot be trusted”.
Their chats over a cup of coffee are full of the scandals in the (sea-) food industry. They never discuss what they know about various logos, or what is behind the world of credible sustainability claims. They never tell each other how their choices are a way to trigger producers – globally – to include environmental and social consequences as normal procedures in their business. So, there’s work to do.
The power of the logo
The beauty of the ASC logo is that it is easy to recognise. Also it does not discriminate between fish farmed in Denmark or Indonesia, for example. It tells an equal story for all ASC certified seafood. The key, however, is that the ASC logo communicates positively, providing consumers with the reassurance that their ASC certified purchase is responsibly sourced.
So the first thing I always do when chatting with my mother’s friends is show them the ASC logo. And I ask them what they think of it?
They say for them it represents ‘approval’ and ‘healthy fish’. This already is a critical step; positive reassurance is important for them to choose ASC certified seafood when they are shopping. The logo does the job!
There is more to tell….
But of course I am not satisfied. Because what my mother’s friends do not realise yet, is what sets the ASC logo apart from others is that there is a world of independence and transparency behind it. I casually ask them what claims and logos they know for seafood. Often then it stays quite silent… There is not a real clear answer. Now I have a hook for explaining to them why they can trust this logo.
Most people understand from experience that government regulations are not always perfect in terms of governing an industry. They also understand that companies have a business to run, for which prices and costs are paramount (resulting in food scandals as well). And, as a result, other variables such as food safety issues or environmental and social impacts are not always dealt with properly.
I always explain that certification is there to be used by companies who want to include environmental and social considerations in their business. Certification is there as well to inspire governments globally to cooperate for better regulations.
The key message, however, is that ASC is independent and has thorough requirements that a farm must meet before it can be certified. The farmers who participate in our voluntary programme adhere to a high level of transparency about their performance. Equally important are the thorough traceability requirements on the companies who source and sell the certified seafood, bringing the labeled product to the consumer.
The response I get most often is that they are surprised by the efforts made to ensure that consumers can trust ASC certified products.
What is it all about?
What I often do is give examples such as how Thuan An, a pangasius producer in Vietnam, invested in a waste treatment system, monitors the quality of discharge water and reinforced the embankment of the fish ponds to prevent fish escapes during floods. I tell people the amazing story of the Regal Springs tilapia production in Indonesia having zero waste. They use every part of the fish and even the effluent water goes into irrigating rice paddies.
It is amazing to hear from various pangasius producers that because of their participation in the ASC programme they invested time in local communities, which were often complaining about the farms before. The relations shifted as a result and, CP Vietnam Cooperation, for example, now has more than 70 per cent of their employees from the local community.
My mother and her friends should be able to simply trust the ASC logo. For us it is simple – because we have a consumer facing logo we cannot allow ourselves to suffer any scandals around the credibility of our programme. They understand this!
These examples and the ASC logo inspire my mother and her friends to choose ASC certified seafood the next time they shop. And this is exactly how our programme should work…. this is the trigger for other producers to join our programme and reduce their environmental and social impacts as well. This is the power of market incentives and how they encourage other farms to improve!