WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following two years of transparent, multi-stakeholder meetings with many of the world's top tilapia producers and buyers, draft standards for certifying tilapia aquaculture products are developed and will be on the agenda for two high-level tilapia meetings this month.
The standards, which address the six main impacts of tilapia farming, are a product of the consensus building process used by the Tilapia Aquaculture Dialogue. The WWF-initiated dialogue is a network of tilapia producers, members of the market chain, researchers, nonprofit organizations, government officials, and investors. The standards are based on impacts, principles, and criteria created by the members of the dialogue (including AQUAMAR, the New England Aquarium, Regal Springs, and Rain Forest Aquaculture) since they began meeting in 2005. Dialogue participants use a process similar to that used by other WWF initiatives to create standards for forestry, fisheries, and agriculture. In all cases, conflicts of interest are eliminated by relying on a multi-stakeholder approach to create the standards and a separate body to handle the certification process.
The standards (as well as their related principles and criteria) will be the main focus of the next dialogue meeting, which will be held August 26-27 in Malaysia and be the first tilapia dialogue meeting in Asia. Thanks to INFOFISH, the meeting will be held in conjunction with Tilapia 2007 in Kuala Lumpur. The standards are expected to be finalized by the end of the year, after feedback from the dialogue participants and general public are incorporated.
WWF-US Aquaculture Specialist Dr. Aaron McNevin also will discuss the draft standards, as well as progress in the dialogue to date, at Tilapia 2007 on August 26th.
The main purpose of the standards is to address the environmental impacts of tilapia farming, such as nutrient-rich effluents in the water and poorly-sited production facilities. Improved environmental conditions will, among other things, decrease the use of chemicals that have raised concerns worldwide about food safety.
The presentation of the standards come amidst a difficult and controversial time for some Asian aquaculture producers, as awareness of food safety appears to be at its pinnacle in the seafood industry. Also, the recent formation of the American Coalition for Tilapia, a trade coalition that will focus on fresh tilapia fillets produced in the Americas, has fostered additional concern over product liability, labeling, and quality.
"The challenges faced by the aquaculture sector in some Asian countries most often are not intentional, but due to the farming structure, which often is dominated by millions of small-scale and resource-limited producers," said Dr. Flavio Corsin, senior aquaculture advisor for WWF's Greater Mekong-Vietnam Program and manager of the Pangasius dialogue to begin this fall. "Although this does not justify lack of compliance to international regulations, it raises the need for a concerted effort to ensure food safety, while being cognizant of the livelihoods aquaculture provides for rural communities."
The standards inherently call for the ability to trace products back to specific farms, an issue that has a significant impact on the environment because it can hold producers accountable for poor performance or reward them for good performance.
"Products are traceable, processes are not," said WWF Aquaculture Specialist Dr. Aaron McNevin, who coordinates the tilapia dialogue. "The development of these process-based certification schemes for aquaculture doesn't provide liability for the product, and that is what the recent press on seafood safety is all about. The dialogue participants are willing to get behind a product produced in compliance with the standards, and that is more powerful than any process."
The standards will be the first of their kind for the WWF-initiated Aquaculture Dialogues. Dialogues are underway for salmon and shrimp. Mollusc and Pangasius dialogues will begin this fall. The dialogues build on the previous multi-stakeholder work developed by the Consortium on Shrimp Farming and the Environment.
For more information about the dialogues, visit www.worldwildlife.org/aquadialogues.