Ecolabelling Guidelines Misused as Certification Standards

July 2012

(Washington, DC) — The Environmental Law Institute today released a study clarifying that international fisheries and aquaculture ecolabelling codes of conduct and guidelines cannot be used as seafood certification standards. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) maintains a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries Management designed to assist governments in creating fisheries management policy, as well as institutional and substantive guidelines that provide a framework for the proper structure and operation of seafood ecolabelling and certification systems.

ELI’s analysis shows that the code and guidelines are not and were never intended to be seafood certification standards. Instead, FAO’s own guidelines require certification to be based on standards that include measurable performance indicators, created in accordance with the Guidelines’ minimum institutional and procedural prerequisites. The ELI study reviewed the structure and operation of one “FAO-based” seafood certification system, which uses the FAO Code and guidelines as the basis for its certification standard. The study concluded that this system is not credible because it lacks a measurable, performance-based standard and because it is neither independent nor transparent.

“Seafood certification has tremendous promise for protecting wild fisheries and ocean environments, but they cannot meet this promise unless they are based on strong, measurable standards created through a transparent process without conflicts of interest,” said Read Porter, an ELI senior attorney. “The FAO Code of Conduct and Guidelines are important tools to guide fisheries management and ecolabel development, but they simply aren?t certification standards. We therefore encourage retailers and consumers to carefully scrutinize systems offering certification to FAO ‘standards’ and to select only certification systems that are credible and independent.”

The report is available as a free pdf download at

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