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Process for Certifying Pangasius Aquaculture Products is Underway

Enthusiastic Group Meets for First Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue

WASHINGTON, DC: During the inaugural meeting of the Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue, more than 70 producers, buyers, government officials and others from around the world agreed that there is an urgent need and willingness to certify pangasius aquaculture products.

By the end of the two-day meeting in Ho Chi Minh City September 26-27, participants had identified and agreed on the eight main environmental and social issues related to tra and basa, which are the two key market species in the pangasius family and the focus of the dialogue. Issues include excess food and waste products polluting the water, habitat destruction and the diversion of water, and antibiotics and chemicals having unintended consequences for the environment and human health. They also developed principles to address each issue. For example, the principle associated with the issue of antibiotics is to ensure food safety and the quality of products while reducing the risk to the ecosystem.

"In a world where certification systems are proliferating, consumers in Europe are becoming confused with what the systems really mean and many producers are being alienated in the process," said Dave Little, a senior lecturer at the University of Sterling's Institute of Aquaculture and a dialogue participant. "World Wildlife Fund's approach to the pangasius dialogue, in which stakeholder participation is central, seems most likely to connect with and inform consumers about ethical choices of seafood and encourage sustainable production."

Mr. Khon, head of planning at BIANFISHCO, agrees. "As producers, we are excited to be included in this discussion. The dialogue will not be a success without input from me - and other producers who work directly in aquaculture - about the issues related to pangasius farming and how to address each issue."

The meeting was held in Vietnam, where 90 percent of pangasius farming occurs. Almost 1 million tons of pangasius are expected to be produced this year in Vietnam - a goal the country had set for 2010. Pangasius aquaculture is one of the fastest growing types of aquaculture in the world.

Additional meetings will be held over the next year so members of the dialogue can determine how to reduce and measure the extent of each issue identified. This information will be used to create measurable, performance-based standards for certifying pangasius aquaculture producers. The voluntary standards will be handed off to a new or existing certification entity to manage the system.

Although initiated by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the dialogue will be run under the direction of a Steering Committee that includes representatives from the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, QVD Company, Butler's Choice and other entities. The Steering Committee's responsibilities will, among other things, include identifying research needs and sources of funding for the research, creating a process for gathering and addressing feedback related to the dialogue and identifying criteria and indicators which will then be used to set standards. This information will be presented at the next dialogue meeting, scheduled to be held by March 2008.

"WWF is thrilled to be coordinating this process," said Jose Villalon, director of WWF's Aquaculture Program. "We want to share our expertise in developing similar certification programs and help build consensus among the many stakeholders interested in making pangasius farming more sustainable."

This Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue is one of six dialogues initiated by WWF. Dialogues are underway for certifying salmon, shrimp and tilapia aquaculture products. A dialogue for molluscs will begin this week and one for trout is expected to start in early 2008. Each dialogue group is a network of large- and small-scale producers, members of the market chain, researchers, nongovernmental organizations, government officials and investors. They use a transparent, multi-stakeholder process to develop the standards. WWF used a similar process to create standards for forestry, fisheries, agriculture and climate.

"The link WWF created during the Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue between different stakeholders in the sector -- particularly environmentalists, farmers and consumers -- is very constructive and multi-beneficial," said Florentina Constanta, area sales manager for Butler's Choice International and a dialogue participant. "The emphasis WWF places on the participation of the farmers in this dialogue is unique and builds the road to more commitment and faster improvement at the farm level, which can only lead to more respect and increased responsibility for the environment and people's health."