Traceability, the missing link?
There was a great article last month in Planet Tracker by François Mosnier, talking about the benefits of traceability in seafood. Here at Pacific Rich Resources, we have marketed this concept of traceability for sustainability for years. It has gotten little traction. What traction that was obtained in the market was from the subtle change of sustainability being the target, to ‘health and safety’. Suddenly we had an audience. Semantics perhaps, but traceability is the key.
Mosnier reports, that as of this moment, the majority of seafood sold, a staggering 75 percent is not certified or rated as ‘sustainable’. The number of retailers and consumers who are concerned about the sustainability of their fish, on the other hand, is increasing. What this technically means is that there is a market to be had for sustainably accredited items. Traceability is the key to this and a greater take up would ultimately lead to an increase in overall profitability within the seafood sector. So why are stake holders not really taking advantage of this?
Whenever this matter is discussed, it is always down to dollars. There is a mindset out there that sustainably accredited items are more expensive due to the costs of the traceability mechanisms. I personally do not think this is the case and could present a slew of evidence to support the case. Recent research by Planet Tracker also support this position, with their research indicating that sea-to-plate traceability would allow the seafood processing sector, worth $140 billion, vitally positioned between harvesters and retailers, and a key source of traceability gaps, to double its EBIT margin, currently at a low three percent. These are large numbers so what’s the issue?
The main one is probably confusion. We have reported on this many times. There are countless systems and accreditations out there in the market place. They are confusing but worse, they rarely interact seamlessly with one another. In addition, the collation of information methodologies for a stake holder are generally onerous and certainly do not make for an ease of operation. Surely in today’s day and age, low-cost, user-friendly technologies are available for both large-scale and small-scale operations and should be utilised.
I am not optimistic, but in March 2020, the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST) launched a set of Open-source and non-proprietary, traceability standards. Whilst there are
only in their first iteration they could possibly be a step in the right direction. Certainly, large retailers like Sainsbury’s and Whole Foods have already pledged to adopt and implement them. It would be wonderful to drive adoption, across producers, processors and retailers, but at this moment just one large, listed seafood producer – Thai Union – has publicly pledged to adopt the standards. That actually surprises me, as in Asia we are always very late to come to the ‘sustainability party’.
It has always been an uphill battle here in Hong Kong especially. However, maybe with people on the back food due to the economic hard times driven by CV19, they might be more inclined to look a cost saving initiatives. It is certainly worth while checking whether stake holders are GDST-compliant, and with them explore the financial benefits and costs of implementing protocols. This could not only help improve the sustainability and profitability of the seafood industry, but also simultaneously protect their own returns.
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