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Walmart Considers Cutting Alaskan Salmon Processors After 40 Drop MSC Label

Image credit: Kevin Fleming/CORBIS

Alaska officials last week lobbied Walmart to continue selling the state's wild-caught salmon, as the retail giant considers dropping some 40 of the state’s salmon processors that stopped pursuing the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label.

Reuters reports that the issue emerged last year when processors of wild-caught salmon decided to halt use of the internationally accepted blue ecolabel awarded by MSC, claiming it was too expensive and eroded their brand. The processors argued that their own control systems were adequate, and they would consider the Ireland-based Global Trust Certification (GTC) as an alternative.

In June, Walmart sent a routine letter to its salmon suppliers, warning them that they must currently hold or be working towards MSC certification.

Last Thursday’s meeting covered monitoring and sustainability practices, including third-party oversight and chain-of-custody reporting and other issues, Walmart says. Alaskan fishing and policy officials made their case to convince the retailer that their own internal regulatory system should suffice.

"We are optimistic that Walmart will recognize Alaska fisheries as sustainably managed," Susan Bell, Commissioner of Alaska's Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, told Reuters.

Walmart has not disclosed how much Alaska salmon it buys or sells in its stores and also has not specified when it will decide whether to accept Alaska's switch to GTC.

In 2011, Alaskan seafood was valued at $6.4 billion both abroad and in the United States, according to McDowell Group, Inc, a research firm contracted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) — nearly all of whose members dropped MSC. The Alaska seafood industry is the state’s largest private-sector employer, with more than 63,000 workers employed in 2011.

Gunnar Knapp, an economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage recently told Reuters: "What would be worrisome and very significant is if this were to become the trend or, far worse, the rule."

MSC is an impartial non-profit that uses rigorous scientific methods to broadly assess environmental impact and traceability. However, the process can be costly  up to millions of dollars per year, according to ASMI.

As the largest food seller in the United States, any decision by Walmart could create a ripple effect through the grocery industry and have long-standing effects on Alaska’s fishing-dependent economy, Reuters says.

A recent report by the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) Innovation and Packaged Facts claims growing consumer awareness of the vulnerable state of the global environment and food supply, along with increased education about ecologically sound foods, will lead to a long-term increase in environmentally conscious eating.

Mike Hower is Marketing Communications Manager at Carbon Lighthouse. With a background on both sides of the communications podium — as a journalist and strategic communicator — he is committed to helping organizations address climate change through sustainability innovation. Previously,… [Read more about Mike Hower]

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