Brits would buy more tuna sandwiches if they knew they were sustainable

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Less than half of UK adults trust claims that retailers and cafés make about their tuna sandwiches, such as ‘pole and line caught’ or ‘dolphin friendly’, according to a survey released by the Marine Stewardship Council ahead of British Sandwich Week, which runs from tomorrow until next weekend.

Tuna sandwiches are a popular purchase: more than half the UK population buys them and an estimated 210 million are sold by supermarkets, sandwich shops, bakeries and cafés each year.

Most come with ethical or environmental claims on the packaging, relating to the type of tuna used or the way it was caught, but just 3 per cent of tuna sandwiches - those sold at Sainsbury’s and Waitrose - carry the MSC’s ‘blue tick’ ecolabel, which gives an independent assurance of sustainability.

Four out of five UK adults surveyed by YouGov said they think it is important that sandwich retailers use tuna that has been sourced sustainably from an area where stocks are plentiful, and caught in a way that does not negatively impact the marine environment.

More than half said they would be more likely to buy a tuna sandwich if they knew the filling had been sustainably sourced.

Yet many shoppers weren’t sure if the ethical and environmental claims regularly made on sandwich packaging, such as ‘pole and line caught’ – used by retailers including Boots, Costa, Pret a Manger and Subway - or ‘dolphin friendly’ – used by Caffè Nero, EAT and Greggs - indicated that the tuna was sustainable, or not.

Shoppers seem to also be confused about which types of tuna are in plentiful supply. Just 7 per cent associated the label ‘skipjack’ with sustainable tuna, although skipjack stocks are considered by marine experts to be at healthy levels. Almost as many shoppers – six per cent – thought the term ‘bluefin’ indicated the tuna was sustainable, although most of the world’s bluefin stocks are overfished.

Toby Middleton at the MSC said, “Maintaining healthy tuna stocks is essential for the marine environment and for fishing communities around the world that rely on tuna for their living. We can all play our part in safeguarding stocks by choosing tuna that’s sustainable, but when you’re buying a sandwich on the high street, you’re often in a rush and don’t have time to check what type of tuna it contains, or how it was caught, let alone remember whether skipjack supplies are more plentiful than bluefin. It’s no wonder shoppers are baffled.”

While less than half of UK adults trust the ethical and sustainability claims on tuna sandwich packaging when they are made by the retailer or café that is selling the sandwich, more than two thirds say they trust such claims when they are made by an independent body or ecolabel.

“By using the MSC’s blue tick ecolabel on their tuna sandwiches, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are making it easy for their shoppers to see at a glance that the tuna has been independently certified as sustainable, when tested against the world’s most credible and robust environmental fishing standard,” said Mr Middleton.

“We’re calling for other supermarkets, high street sandwich retailers like Greggs, Pret and Subway, as well as coffee shops such as Costa, to follow suit and make it easy for their shoppers to make a sustainable choice.”

Around 15 per cent of all tuna caught globally is independently certified as sustainable against the MSC’s science-based standard, yet only two British retailers have the MSC ecolabel on their tuna sandwiches.

To attain MSC certification, tuna fisheries are assessed against 28 sustainability indicators, must demonstrate that they are well managed, keep populations of tuna healthy and minimise their impacts on the marine environment and other species, including marine mammals, sharks and turtles.

There are 23 stocks of the major commercial tuna species worldwide. A recent report from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) showed that 52 per cent of tuna stocks are at a healthy level, while 35 per cent are overfished and 13 per cent are at an intermediate level.

Skipjack stocks, which are all considered by the ISSF to be in a healthy state, contribute more than one half of the global catch. In contrast, most bluefin stocks, and some albacore, bigeye and yellowfin stocks, are overfished but make up a small fraction of the total tuna catch.

When shoppers choose seafood with the MSC ecolabel, they reward fisheries that are committed to sustainable sourcing, and incentivise others to improve their practices, helping to ensure that the world’s oceans are safeguarded for the future.

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