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Wal-Mart’s Secretive Project On Seafood Sustainability Programs

According to the Alaska Journal of Commerce, last Thursday a secretive project aimed at developing “criteria to evaluate seafood sustainability programs” began with an October 9th working-dinner workshop in Atlanta.
The project is being managed by “The Sustainability Consortium,” a think tank that describes itself as representing “100+ of the world’s largest organizations,” but appears to be an initiative of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which was a founding member of TSC while there is also significant financial support from the Walton Foundation.

In 2011 Wal-Mart committed to an intention to only retail seafood that was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). However, since this vow, the supermarket chain has not sold one seafood product bearing the blue MSC logo. MSC certified products were sold by Wal-Mart such as Alaskan salmon but without communicating the sustainability logo on the packaging to its customers.
The project managed by “The Sustainability Consortium,” (TSC) will now focus on Wal-Mart’s ambition to develop its own principles for sustainable seafood in order to evaluate the several certifications on its seafood products. Recently dropping the MSC certification of its salmon industry, according to Wal-Mart, the State of Alaska has shown support for the project.
The sessions discussing the project included the attendance from MSC, Friend of the Sea (FOS), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Environmental Defense Fund, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), as well as New England and Monterey Bay Aquariums.
Other invitees were the U.S National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and several major U.S. seafood producers and retailers, including Kroger, McDonalds, the National Fish & Seafood Co., Darden, Highliner, Seattle-based Aqua Star seafood company and others. It was not clear if the ISSF participated or which U.S. tuna industry members attended the working-dinner.
This initiative from Wal-Mart will mean that the sustainability of Wal-Mart’s tuna and other seafood products will likely in the future become subject to evaluation by several tiers of organizations. Not only will the products have to show credibility to its sustainability certifier and its third party governing bodies, but the certification program will also have to meet the requirements of the Wal-Mart initiative.  
A senior officer from a participating organization said: “The goal is to develop criteria to evaluate seafood sustainability programs. Importantly, it is not to compare MSC to the ASMI “Responsible Fisheries Management”  (RFM) business-to-business certification program, or to choose a single certification. Wal-Mart has successfully used this same process to establish criteria for other products that have multiple programs. The goal is to conclude the process early in 2014.”  RFM was set up by ASMI after it walked away from MSC.
Several of the participants in the “The Sustainability Consortium” project are also involved in the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative, a three-year project to create an internationally accepted “benchmarking tool” to rate the legitimacy of ecolabels and seafood certification programs like MSC and others. GSSI at first glance seemed to have the same goals as Wal-Mart secretive project.
Academic members of TSC, contributing to the evaluation include Arizona State University, the University of Arkansas, Nanjing University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.