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Commission launches debate on eco-labelling of fisheries products

European Commission - Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

29th June 2005

The European Commission tabled, today, a Communication (com_05_275_en pdf 186 Kb) designed to launch a debate on the best way ahead regarding the eco-labelling of fisheries products.  This initiative follows the growing interest by environmental Non-Governmental Organisations and increased public interest in food products associated with considerations related to environmental sustainability.  A number of eco-labelling schemes have already been established with regard to fisheries products and other initiatives are being developed.  It is not always easy to establish how reliable some eco-labelling claims are.  International guidelines on eco-labelling have recently been adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and discussions on these issues and their potential effects on free trade areas are progressing in other international fora such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  The European Commission is committed to the integration of the environmental dimension into fisheries and wants to make the most of eco-labelling of fish and fisheries products.  The Commission, therefore, looks at three possible options to develop this concept further in the Union.  The first involves retaining the status-quo and leaving these schemes develop freely.  The second relates to the creation of a single EU eco-labelling scheme and the third would involve the establishment of EU minimum requirements for voluntary eco-labelling schemes.  The Commission believes that the last one would be the most appropriate.  The debate on these issues will now start with the other EU institutions and with stakeholders.

Joe Borg, Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, commented: “Such schemes have a positive role to play by helping to increase the integration of environmental protection into fisheries.  This would benefit the fisheries sector itself as its future depends on a healthy and sustainable marine environment”.

The experience gained from existing private eco-labelling or equivalent schemes have shown the advantages and drawbacks of such labels in particular with respect to trade, consumer policy and sustainability impacts.  This experience will be worth listening to in the forthcoming debate.

The Commission believes that the Union should have a coherent policy on eco-labelling for fish and fisheries products.  The aims of this policy would be to further sustainable fisheries and adequate protection for the ecosystem, a harmonised approach to eco-labelling throughout the Union, the provision of transparent and objective information to consumers, fair competition, open access and development and trade.

Despite some advantages in leaving things as they are, the Commission believes that the potential risks arising from the absence of a clear Union approach should be addressed.  It looks therefore at the possibility of setting a European Union eco-labelling scheme but concludes that it is neither appropriate nor practical at this point in time.  It favours instead the establishment of minimum requirements for voluntary eco-labelling schemes.