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Greenpeace applauds Canada’s grocers for improved seafood practices

They're far from getting top marks, but all eight of Canada's supermarket chains have been applauded by Greenpeace for implementing policies on seafood sustainability.

Still, just three of Canada's eight chains – the national giant Loblaw, Overwaitea Food Group and Safeway – got passing grades from the global environmental advocacy group in its annual report card on seafood sustainability to be released on Thursday. Chains that failed were Sobeys, Wal-Mart, Metro, Federated Co-operatives and the retail wholesaler Costco.

"Canada's supermarket chains are beginning to walk the talk and turning sustainability commitments to action on supermarkets' shelves," said Sarah King, Greenpeace's oceans campaign co-ordinator. "We are seeing these retailers tighten up their supply chains, but more work is required from them before diminishing ocean life is afforded the protection it needs."

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Greenpeace, which also ranks U.S. stores, bases the scoring on whether supermarkets have policies to increase the sustainability of the seafood products they sell, implementation of the policy (including removing or substituting species that are on the group's Redlist), their ability to trace seafood from ship to store and how they communicate their efforts to customers. The red list includes species that Greenpeace believes have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries.

Three years ago, in the organization's first ranking of Canadian supermarkets, all eight chains failed. The fact that all have implemented some form of seafood sustainability policy is a remarkable turnaround. It is also a sign of the retailers' increasing willingness to help manage depleted global fisheries by working to marshal consumer and supplier demand away from varieties that are endangered or from environmentally troublesome sources.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd., based in Brampton, Ont., is the national leader in this field. Given the top grade of 62 per cent by Greenpeace, the chain is enacting an ambitious commitment to switch 100 per cent of its seafood and related products (including cosmetics and pet food) to sustainable wild-caught and farmed seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council or equivalent organizations by 2013.

Under the guidance of sustainability guru Paul Uys, Loblaw has sought considerable external advice on reforming its procurement; Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings advises the chain on specific stock health and ecosystem impact considerations that now factor into decisions on procurement; input on species selection is also sought from non-governmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Foundation, SeaChoice and Greenpeace.

Loblaw, along with OFG and Safeway, got top marks for its work on consumer awareness. While making environmentally friendly or conscionable seafood purchases is important to many consumers, doing so has become increasingly complicated.

The chains that failed were deemed not to have made enough progress toward sustainability.

Demand for seafood has skyrocketed in the past half century, increasing by more than 50 per cent. Wild stocks have diminished, a trend that has driven up both demand for wild product and for farmed equivalents.

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In the industry's efforts to keep up, supply chains have become corrupted in ways that are often invisible to the consumer: illegally caught fish are impossible to detect in the grocery store, as are less popular species labelled as better-selling varieties.

These issues have also become difficult for mass retailers to combat – as the global trade in seafood expanded, the ability to track an order from a far-off suppliers' ship to the store was lost. Improving traceability, the industry term for this, is one of retailers' toughest tasks as they work to straighten out their supply chains; the Greenpeace scoring reflected this.

Aside from improving traceability, retailers will have to reduce the number of red list species in their stores to improve marks for next year's ratings. To up the ante, six species were added to the list this year: king crab, monkfish, Alaska pollock, rockfish and red fish, hake, and Fraser River sockeye salmon. According to Greenpeace, Loblaw continues to sell eight red list species, OFG sells five and Safeway sells six.

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About the Author
Global food reporter

Jessica Leeder is the Globe’s Atlantic Reporter, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In previous roles, Jessica has reported for the Globe from Afghanistan and post-quake Haiti, assignments for which she won an Emmy and a National Newspaper Award, respectively. She has also written about the politics of global food, entrepreneurialism and small business, and automotive news. More

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