The sustainable seafood movement landed two big catches this week with an eco-labeling commitment from McDonald's for Filet-o-Fish sold in Europe and a pledge from foodservices giant Sodexo to promote the Marine Stewardship Council's standards for seafood in worldwide operations.
The companies and the Marine Stewardship Council announced the developments in connection with World Oceans Day, which was observed on Wednesday.
Starting in October, the wrappers for McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and fish fingers (which are like fish sticks) that are sold in Europe will bear the blue seal of the Marine Stewardship Council.
The label signals that the whitefish used for the menu items came from only fisheries that have received the council's sustainability certification, which speaks to how the areas are managed and how the fish that comes from them are reared or caught.
In a nod to the demands of a market that has heavily scrutinized McDonald's sourcing and environmental impacts, the labeling practice will apply to McDonald's 7,000 restaurants in 39 European countries. It represents the largest commitment of its kind in Europe, according to the company and the Marine Stewardship Council.
McDonald's sold about 100 million portions of Filet-o-Fish products in Europe last year. Figures were not immediately available to show how that volume compares to the amount of Filet-o-Fish sold in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. In terms of sustainability, the whitefish McDonald's uses to make Filet-o-Fish in all its markets must meet the company's standards for responsible seafood sourcing, said Lisa McComb, McDonald's senior manager for global media relations.
In the United States, 100 percent of the whitefish used comes from MSC-certified fisheries, McComb said. Globally, more than 90 percent of the whitefish used by McDonald's can be sourced to fisheries certified by the council, and the balance of whitefish comes from fisheries that meet the company's seafood sourcing standards, which are comparable to MSC's, she said.
So what'll be the difference between the sustainability of the whitefish in a Filet-o-Fish sandwich sold in San Francisco and one sold in Europe?
Come this fall, just the eco-label, apparently.
"We're letting the consumers in Europe, who very much care about this, that the fisheries our suppliers buy from are 100 percent MSC certified," said McComb. "In the U.S., the same reality exists, but at this time we are not actually going so far as to put the label on the packaging." However, should market sensitivities in the U.S. change, the practice may be revisited, she said. Bottom line, she added, "to us, what's most important is the sustainability of the fish."
Why October for the eco-label rollout? Among other things, that's when the company estimates that it will have gone through its current packaging supplies for Filet-o-Fish products in Europe. "Throwing them out would be irresponsible," McComb said.
The company's stance on sustainable fish is part of a broader campaign on food sourcing and supply chain responsibility. In March, McDonald's detailed plans to move to more sustainable meat, coffee and packaging in its Sustainable Land Management Commitment.
Like McDonald's, Sodexo also is trying to integrate sustainability through its global operations.
In February, Sodexo announced a commitment to use only sustainably certified seafood by 2015. The company said that means 100 percent of the fresh and frozen it gets from contracted vendors will have to meet Marine Stewardship Council or Best Aquaculture Practices standards.
The agreement with MSC is the latest expansion of Sodexo's sustainable seafood strategy. The pledge pertains to wild caught fish and, the company said, is aimed at:
The commitment is an industry first, Sodexo and MSC said.
Images courtesy of McDonald's.