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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
British shoppers advised to take ethical line when choosing fish species
Britons are to be officially advised for the first time to eat ethically as well as healthily as the government tries to encourage people to adopt a more environmentally friendly diet.
Fish eaters will be encouraged to turn to species not at risk from overfishing as well as to oily fish, consumption of which is less than half of what it would be if everybody followed official advice.
The Food Standards Agency already advises eating one portion of white and one of oily fish a week - fresh, frozen or tinned. Fish provides protein and vitamins, and oily fish has omega-3 fatty acids, which give protection against heart disease. But the agency warns against eating too much because of pollutants - particularly from oily varieties - which can build up in the body. Women of childbearing age and those who are breastfeeding are warned not to eat more than two portions a week and to avoid shark, swordfish and marlin because they can carry high levels of methylmercury.
About a quarter of the world's stocks are at risk from overfishing, half are fished to sustainable limits and less than a quarter are considered suitable for further exploitation.
Although fish farming could help, there is some public concern at the industry's potential to damage the environment and its reliance on fish feeds, which can further reduce stocks.
The agency issued a consultation paper yesterday on environmental advice. It is likely to point consumers towards organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Marine Conservation Society which already advise consumers on sustainability of stocks.
The MSC has an international system for labelling fish from sustainable sources. For instance, it endorses Alaskan salmon and pollack, herring from Scotland, the North Sea, the Thames and Hastings and is about to approve Scottish mackerel. There are more than 300 MSC-certified fish products already. But the present lists of white and oily fish on the FSA website do not mention the viability of their stocks. The Marine Conservation Society is worried about the future of several species including cod from large parts of the Atlantic, wild halibut and orange roughy.
Rosemary Hignett, head of nutrition at the FSA, said: "Eating fish has considerable health benefits, so we will continue to encourage consumption as part of a drive to improve public health but we recognise the potential impact our advice might have on demands for fish."
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Issues/Retail / consumers