Tesco does u-turn on tuna
New Greenpeace tuna league table and Channel 4's Big Fish Fight force sea change
Having got wind of Greenpeace's new tinned tuna league table and the fact that it was going to come last, Tesco has done a spectacular u-turn. After being the subject of a Greenpeace investigation, it has radically improved its policy on the fishing methods it will permit for its own-brand tuna.
The downside is that Greenpeace had an entire campaign ready to roll out today which you won't get to see now. But any frustration is easily outweighed by achieving a major victory without even going public. Perhaps the threat of a Greenpeace campaign – and the outrage of thousands of Greenpeace supporters - is enough to move huge corporations.
Over the last few months Greenpeace have been producing a new league table and report to show how supermarkets (along with key brands Princes and John West) rate in terms of sustainability on their tinned tuna. With Channel 4's Big Fish Fight season in the offing, the time was ripe for a new version.
Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose took the top three places thanks to stocking only tuna caught by pole and line. Tesco, however, came last as most of its tuna is caught using Fads (fish aggregating devices) alongside purse seine nets which for the sharks, rays and juvenile tuna caught up in them are little more than deathtraps.
At least that was how things were on Friday afternoon, until Greenpeace heard from Tesco that it was going to be stocking 100 per cent pole and line-caught tuna by the end of 2012. (Only a month ago in response to a Greenpeace survey it said it was only prepared to source 25 per cent in the same manner and even then, only as a trial.) The phrase "if possible" was also used, and there's still no word on public support for marine reserves, but that move alone was enough to move them up into fifth place.
Tesco sells the most tins of tuna in this country, so the impact on the global market is significant to say the least. With 1kg of bycatch in every 10kg of tuna caught with Fads and purse seine nets, that's going to be good news for all the sharks and other marine life out there.
Of course, someone has to come in bottom place and the dubious honour has now gone to Princes. Most of its tuna is caught alongside large quantities of bycatch and it also sells bigeye tuna, which is described as vulnerable on the IUCN red list, as well as yellowfin tuna. It also doesn't mention on the label how the tuna was caught or even which species it is, and the claim that "Princes is fully committed to fishing methods which protect the marine environment and marine life", which appears on its tins, rings hollow. Greenpeace are planning on making a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading about this next week.
In the meantime, don't miss Hugh's Fish Fight starting on Channel 4 this Tuesday at 9pm. In episodes two and three (shown on Wednesday and Thursday) you'll get to see some of the investigative work done last year by Greenpeace researchers to help bring about this sea change in Tesco's policy.
Download our buyers' guide to tinned tuna for £3. Our Best Buy for tinned tuna is not a supermarket.
For Greenpeace's top ranking supermarkets, we would recommend M&S, then Waitrose and then Sainsbury's. This takes into account our recent rating of the supermarkets over 23 ethical issues.