THE MARINE STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL'S commercial officer talks to Footprint at The University Caterers Organisation conference in Wales.
Anya Hart Dyke (AHD): Good morning Ruth. Your presentation at the conference focused on a new approach to buying sustainably sourced fish through the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). What is it and how does it work?
Ruth Westcott (RW): We wanted to find a cost-effective way to get more universities serving sustainably sourced fish. We have two types of chain-of-custody certification. Single-site certification – and by “site” we mean a single kitchen serving one dining area – involves a visit by an independent auditor to check that certain assurance systems are in place. But group certification is where compliance across a group is managed at head office and the external auditor visits only a sample of sites. The head office – in this case the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) – assumes responsibility for overall compliance, and must make sure each site has been audited internally. This keeps the costs down for individual universities.
AHD: What do universities need to do to be compliant?
RW: Universities must keep a record of purchases and sales, ensure that MSC fish is always identifiable in kitchens, ensure key staff are trained and conduct quick internal audits of each site. Thereafter, annually, the university must do a refresher audit at each site and ensure all staff training is up to date.
AHD: Does that amount to quite a lot of work?
RW: Actually, TUCO provides a handbook with all the documents required, tailored to the specific catering operations of its members, making the process as straightforward as possible. Previously each university needed to interpret and implement the MSC’s generic chain-of-custody requirements to their own operations.
AHD: Why should universities sign up?
RW: Overfishing is the unseen global environmental crisis – according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, over 70% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. Yet our demand for seafood is increasing. According to our analysis, more and more students are asking for MSC-certified fish. Recent concerns over traceability in the supply chain have really highlighted the value of the MSC’s chain-of-custody assurance – our latest DNA testing results found that 99% of MSC-certified fish was correctly labelled. MSC certification offers assurance to students and the whole university community that the fish is from an independently certified, sustainable source. Serving MSC-certified fish also helps universities earn points towards the Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark scheme.
AHD: Currently, only 3663 and Brakes supply a substantial range of MSC fish. Is there plenty of MSC fish available?
RW: Universities can check in the MSC supplier directory for a list but the only way smaller distributors will become certified is if universities make it clear that certified sustainable, traceable fish is important to them. There is more and more MSC-certified fish coming through the supply chain – including Scottish mussels, crab, scallops, haddock and hopefully soon saithe – which should help them justify the investment.
AHD: Is this new group certification model suitable for other public-sector bodies like the NHS?
RW: Ideally, this works where a central body has some control over its members’ sites. A good example might be purchasing organisations that manage hospital catering. But an existing central control body is not essential; we are currently working on a project to create a similar group for independent restaurants, which we hope we can talk more about soon. Any suggestions for suitable groups are very welcome.