Politics of the Plate:
Green Giant?


I was more skeptical than most when Peter Redmond, the vice-president of deli and seafood at Wal-Mart, announced two years ago that the retailing behemoth intended to make a genuine effort to sell seafood certified as sustainable according to the stringent guidelines set by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Paying lip service to environmental issues is a great marketing strategy, but really …Wal-Mart?

Well, the results are starting to come in, and it’s beginning to look like a mea culpa might be in order. This week, Rupert Howes, chief executive of the London-based MSC, reported that fully one-quarter of the wild-caught fresh and frozen seafood sold by Wal-Mart bears his organization’s seal of approval. Moreover, if you count the seafood from fisheries that are currently under review for certification (most of which will get it, because the process is so intensive that there is no incentive to try unless they have cleaned up their environmental act), the figure rises to 50 or 60 percent.

Wal-Mart’s decision is having ripple effects. A trade organization representing 4,500 Dutch food stores has announced that its members will be converting to all-MSC-certified fish. And for the first time in the organization’s 10-year history, there is real evidence that products bearing the MSC label can command a price premium. According to Howes, better prices and the assurance of large, stable markets are beginning to convince non-compliant fisheries that changing their unsustainable ways can pay.

“People were surprised,” said Howes. “But Peter Redmond and his group are really committed.”

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