The European Parliament rapporteur on the EC proposal for a regulation on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products has made available a working document which discusses various issues.
On labelling, where the EC is proposing that mandatory information should include the date of catch, he notes that ‘The date of landing should be mandatory and the date of catch should be voluntary. It would be confusing simply to label the date of catch, as fish stored in ice for many days by boats which make long fishing trips can be in a perfectly fresh and first-class condition. However, consumers would not understand the difference and would always opt for the more recently caught option’.
‘Consumers should be clear about which fisheries products have been frozen and defrosted, particularly with regards to “so-called” fresh fish products. Labelling should include information about the date of first freezing below a certain temperature, although there should be special rules for canners, as consumers will be alarmed at seeing a catch date of some years ago, indicating when the product has been frozen for the first time. As far as canned fish products are concerned, mandatory information requires a date, whether or not the catch is sustainable, plus information about whether the item has been frozen and defrosted.’
The rapporteur also stressed the need to maintain a level playing-field between EU fisheries products and products imported from outside the EU. Imports must ‘comply with the same regulations as those imposed within the EU, not only on ecological grounds, but also embracing socio-economic issues’. He proposed that the EU should develop its own eco-label, emphasising that ‘An EU eco-label would enable the consumer to make an informed choice between EU goods or imported goods. This will help to create a system that enhances and encourages a viable, sustainable industry’.
It is still unclear how the EU will deal with voluntary labelling information, especially concerning ecological, socio-economic, ethical and related issues. The proposal made by the EP rapporteur, to develop an EU eco-label that would allow the consumer to choose between ‘environmentally sustainable EU products’ and imported products, would discriminate against all imports including ACP imports, and not comply with international trade rules. However, other options exist that could be considered, including developing labels of origin and developing criteria for environmental and social sustainability. In this context, ACP countries should assess how any type of mandatory information, such as catch date, could affect their products. If the catch date and the mention of whether a product has been defrosted become compulsory labelling information, this may in fact provide an advantage to those who make short fishing trips and do not need to freeze their products before marketing.