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Behind the Label tinned tuna

Consumers may be surprised at what's really in their tuna products, according to campaigners

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Lidl supermarket tuna 'contains fish species not on the label'

Kara Moses

24th November, 2010

Tuna industry showing disregard for consumers and future sustainability of fish stocks, according to Greenpeace

Tuna products on sale in one of the UK's leading supermarkets have been found to contain fish not indicated on the label, independent tests released by environmental campaigners have revealed.

Nixe brand tuna, owned by German supermarket Lidl and sold throughout its UK stores, was one of thirteen worldwide brands identified during genetic testing as producing inconsistent and misleading products.

Lidl’s website states: ‘In order to be absolutely transparent with our customers, the Latin name of the species, the catch area and whether the product was farmed or caught is clearly stated on the back of our packaging.’

However tins of Nixe skipjack tuna – believed to be the most sustainable option for consumers – were found to contain other fish species such as tuna-like Euthynnus not mentioned on the label. Little is known about the stock status of these species.

Although not mislabelled, the contents of Nixe tuna salads were also found to be inconsistent, containing different species across batches including bigeye tuna, stocks of which are in long-term decline and considered to be overfished.

Activists say the findings highlight the tuna industry's disregard for consumers and the future sustainability of fish stocks.

Hoodwinking

‘The tinned tuna industry is not only hoodwinking both consumers and retailers about the tinned tuna that lands in shopping baskets worldwide, it’s making them complicit in a trail of destruction’ said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Nina Thuellen.

‘Tuna companies are indiscriminately stuffing multiple species of tuna, including juveniles of species in decline, into tins that shoppers rightfully expect to contain a sustainable product,’ Thuellen continued. 

This is not the first time the Nixe brand has come under fire. In 2007, the brand was reportedly found to be sourcing tuna from illegal sources in Ecuador. The company later claimed on its labels that its tuna was now being sourced legitimately.

The contents of tinned tuna products from over twelve countries were analysed by Spanish marine research laboratory AZTI Tecnalia using genetic testing to identify which species were present in the tins. The highest number of inconsistencies were found in Greek, Spanish and Dutch brands.

Unsustainable methods

The research identified the use of fish aggregation devices (FADs) – manmade objects floated on the surface of the ocean to attract fish – as the driving factor behind the inconsistent products. The large aggregations of fish lured by the devices become easy prey for fishermen to draw a net around them and close it at the bottom – a method known as purse seining.

However these increasingly popular practices have received critisicm from environmentalists for their indiscriminatory nature. FADs attract a variety of marine life such as sharks, turtles and juveniles of fish species suffering from depleted stocks. Once these juveniles are stored in freezers it becomes difficult to differentiate between species and they inevitably get swept into the tinning process.

‘By using FADs in purse seining and removing juvenile tuna from the oceans, the tuna industry is driving the future collapse of tuna stocks, along with its own demise,’ said Thuellen.

‘FADs are at the root of an unsustainable industry, driving the overfishing of tuna populations, and hindering the recovery of species like bigeye and yellowfin.’

Global ban

Greenpeace is now calling for a global ban on FADs and is urging politicians gathering at the West and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Hawaii in December to set an example by banning the use of FADs in these areas.

The campaign group is also asking retailers to immediately remove all products that showed inconsistencies and to introduce policies to not source from tuna fisheries setting purse seine nets on FADs.

A spokesperson for Lidl told The Ecologist: ‘Following the report published by Greenpeace we are very concerned about their findings. We are currently working closely with our supplier to investigate this issue.’

‘As a company we take our corporate social responsibility and the impact we have on the environment and our resources extremely seriously.’

 

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