The new certification guidelines were drawn up by a UN sub-committee of over 50 nations, which the UN claims is the only global forum to ever discuss aquaculture development.
Established after four-years of discussion with governments, producers, processors and traders, the non-binding guidelines cover everything from fish health to food safety – and for the first time – environmental and socio-economic issues.
They also take account of the fact that 80 per cent of fish farmers are small scale, and that any costly certification process should not exclude small-scale producers.
FAO aquaculture expert Rohana Subasinghe said the guidelines were developed to cover the “fastest growing food sector in the world”; according to UN figures the global fish food aquaculture production will hit 52.5m tonnes in 2008.
“Certification of aquaculture products has proliferated over the years claiming all kinds of things.There was no criteria, no benchmarks or agreed principles,” he said.
“Aquaculture products are globally traded and it is important that we ensure responsible production and consumer satisfaction."
On an EU level the proposals will be considered by the 27 member states within the EU Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries, which is due to meet in January.
Asked how likely it was that the committee would adopt the guidelines FAO spokesman Peter Lowrey told FoodNavigator.com: “We’re led to believe it should be something of a formality, they’re obliged to make these changes.”
However, an EU Commission spokesman said that, since no Commission consultation document exists on the guidelines, “MEPs may issue an ‘opinion’ saying the guidelines are excellent, but we’d still be a long way away from legislation.”
He added that even formal proposal voted on by Parliament would have to be moved by the Commission to further legislation in the first place.
Growing EU market
Norway is the EEA’s biggest aquaculture producer (0.84m tonnes in 2008) – a low figure compared with world leader China, 32.7m tonnes – but the sector is fast-developing in Europe, especially given the paucity of Mediterranean fish stocks.
In a July 2010 blog post EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki called for a “new legitimacy” for sustainable aquaculture within the union, given its “significant growth and job-creation potential.”
Fears abound in the EU over such issues as high antibiotic use causing water pollution, fish-borne diseases threatening wild stocks after potential interbreeding with farmed fish and damage caused by extensive fish farms to tourist industries.
But Damanaki said that 60 per cent of EU fish is imported and stressed the need to diversify species and production given falling fish stocks. “If aquaculture did not exist – we would have to invent it.”
WWF (World Wildlife Fund) spokesman David Burrows said he supported the FAO’s move: “We welcome the adoption of the FAO technical guidelines…all future standards should follow them.”