With the recent release of the excellent docufilm 'The End of the line' by Charles Clover, tuna has become an exceedingly hot topic, and rightly so. There is no doubt that the film has been successful in raising awareness around over fishing and by-catch, and it's certainly put these difficult issues firmly on the agenda. Pret A Manger was thrust into the maelstrom of media interest around tuna over 4 per cent of sales are driven by the popular tuna baguette and sandwich, with over 7000kg of it sold a week across the Pret estate. The media applauded the business for taking the lead by removing tuna from the shelves.
Unfortunately the press wasn't accurate. It was reported that Pret had stopped selling the highly endangered almost to go extinct blue fin (blue fin has never been sold at Pret), and that Pret had taken all tuna off it's shelves in protest at the state of tuna stocks after having seen the film.
In reality yellow fin was removed from the sushi boxes as there is concern about its population density falling below acceptable levels, and the skip jack tuna which has always been used was now to be caught via a different method - pole and line.
Skip jack tuna is plentiful in numbers, its a smaller, non migratory fast breeding fish therefore there are no concerns about it being over fished, but the purse seine method of catching it is very problematic.
The indiscriminate nature of the vast nets mean that all sorts of other fish and sea creatures (sharks, turtles. rays) get caught too, but are discarded. The waste or by-catch as its known is huge. Pret was appalled by this, so being a fairly small business, was able to secure a supply of pole and line caught skip jack tuna. Taking tuna off the menu wasn't necessary as a sustainable solution had been found.
What a success - now many retailers are following suit, and hopefully only sustainable tuna will be on sale - but are there any possible detrimental effects to this move? Will demand start outstripping supply? Will prices of pole and line caught tuna start to spiral upwards? Will the smaller businesses be able to afford it? Will the increased demand mean that the skip jack numbers decline? Then what? These are real problems that food retailers will need to start planning for now.
It's all very well focusing on one issue, but the risk here is that due to all the media hype retailers dash around trying to do the right thing in one area which is making the headlines but take their eye off the other hugely pressing issues of the day. Climate change, global warming, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, pollution, obesity, poverty, water scarcity...the list goes on. As responsible businesses we must be looking at all of these areas, reducing our impact, and helping to solve them. After all they are all linked.
Finding solutions will only come about through collaboration, innovation and people willing to take risks with new ideas. At Pret we don't just focus on the topic of the day, we have a thorough sustainability policy which works through all of the issues and we try to be ahead of the curve, but we can't do this in isolation. We all have a responsibility to work on this together.
To conclude, the film rightly points out the devastation we are causing to our oceans, but it would be wrong to see this issue in isolation - climate change, global warming, pollution, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, poverty, obesity and over population are all equally as important and desperate for our attention - but with no one highlighting their plight with a high profile film may get over looked.
As a food business, our challenge is to ensure that all these issues are tackled in equal measure so that as a responsible business we ensure our longevity as well as everyone else's.