Greenpeace: U.S. retailers show improvement on responsibly-sourced canned tuna, but big brands continue to hold the industry back
by Perry Wheeler
April 18, 2017
Washington, DC - In its second-ever canned tuna ranking, Greenpeace USA found that a number of U.S. retailers have made significant progress toward offering consumers more sustainable and ethical products. While retailers including Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, Wegmans, Giant Eagle, Albertsons, ALDI, Ahold Delhaize, and Kroger have moved in the right direction on their own canned tuna, the three largest U.S. brands -- Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and StarKist -- continue to hold the industry back from the sweeping changes that are desperately needed.
“Retailers are quickly realizing that consumers want canned tuna products that they can feel good about feeding their families,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaigner David Pinsky. “It’s unfortunate that tuna giants like Chicken of the Sea continue to talk a good game on sustainability and human rights, yet have not made the changes needed to shift a destructive industry. Chicken of the Sea can be the leader that says the status quo will no longer be tolerated, but it needs to act now.”
In this year’s ranking, Whole Foods joined Wild Planet, American Tuna, and Ocean Naturals in the green category, identified as the best canned tuna choices for American consumers. Whole Foods recently made a commitment to sell only sustainable canned tuna nationwide by early 2018, setting the bar for all other U.S. retailers. Wild Planet and American Tuna tied for the top score in the ranking — both trusted sustainable tuna brands that continue to advocate for positive changes throughout the industry. Just below the top-ranked brands are seven retailers in the yellow category — compared to the last ranking in 2015, a growing number of evaluated brands provide some good tuna choices.
While retailers have made significant progress over the last two years, the big three tuna brands continue to fail on both sustainability and social responsibility. Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and StarKist failed yet again, and have shown little improvement to their policies and practices. Chicken of the Sea, owned by global seafood giant Thai Union, ranked the highest of the three brands for its policy positions on sustainability and human rights, but the company must do more to show its suppliers are meeting those requirements.
“It’s no secret that the big three tuna brands in the U.S. are holding the rest of the industry back from the transformative change we need,” added Pinsky. “A retailer like Walmart has so clearly been infiltrated by the big three brands’ industry front group, it now regurgitates industry talking points in its policy and communications. As Kroger launches more responsibility-caught canned tuna products, it could soon leave Walmart and Costco in the dust — both retailers are failing to lead. Retailers should continue to break free of the destructive tuna industry’s low bar sustainability and social responsibility standards, and offer consumers better products.”
Walmart, along with retailers Target, Costco, SUPERVALU, Trader Joe’s, and H-E-B, failed this year’s ranking. While most of this group has trended in the wrong direction with inadequate or nonexistent tuna policies and destructive products on store shelves, SUPERVALU shows promise with plans to improve its tuna policies and procurement. Walmart, on the other hand, recently released a canned tuna policy that maintains the status quo and continues to rely on unsustainable suppliers like Thai Union.
The tuna ranking evaluated the sourcing policies and practices of 20 brands, including whether the fishing method used to catch their tuna harms other marine life, whether they avoid shark finning, and whether they can trace their products back to the sea. In addition, Greenpeace examined the equitability and social responsibility of tuna brands. Poor working conditions are systemic in the tuna industry, and in the worst cases, human rights violations and forced labor occur.
The U.S. is the largest market for canned tuna in the world and the primary global market for albacore tuna, a species mostly caught by longlines. Longline fishing consists of multiple hooks hanging from a main line that can stretch for miles. The longline fishery is less regulated and can be highly destructive when measures are not employed to properly mitigate bycatch. Skipjack tuna, another common canned tuna species, is mainly caught by large purse seine nets set on fish aggregating devices (FADs). FADs are floating objects that attract tuna and other species. Setting on FADs results in higher bycatch rates, killing thousands of sharks, billfish, and other non-target species. As consumers demand responsibly-caught tuna, the U.S. market is starting to shift toward best practice catch methods like pole and line, troll, and FAD-free.
To view the entire Canned Tuna Shopping Guide, please visit: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/tuna-guide/
This year’s shopping guide is available in Spanish at: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/guia-atun-enlatado/
Contact: Perry Wheeler, Global Seafood Communications and Outreach Manager, 301-675-8766